The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has declared victory in Sunday’s general election, a result which opponents condemned as a “sham” following a months-long crackdown on the press and the suppression of the leading opposition party.
CPP, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, won more than 100 of the 125 seats in Parliament, a party spokesman said.
The country’s leading opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was effectively barred from running in Sunday’s vote after a court ruled late last year that top members of the party were conspiring with foreigners to stage a revolution.
The CNRP’s leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested in September on charges of treason and is still behind bars.
“29 July 2018 marked the death of democracy in Cambodia (and) a new dark day of its history,” Sochua Mu, the vice president of the CNRP, said during a news conference in Jakarta, Monday. Sitting beside her was Kem Monovithya, Kem Sokha’s daughter.
Sochua called Sunday’s vote a “sham election” in full breach of the Cambodian constitution and its international obligations.
“We resolutely reject this costly electoral circus and its dangerous consequences,” she said.
The official primary results will be released 11 August, with the final results published on 15 August, according to the National Election Commission.
Yara Suos, the CPP spokesman, denied any foul play on the part of Cambodia’s rulers.
“We are proud to be the only party capable of representing the Cambodian people,” said Yara. “The leaders of the CNRP have spent two thirds of their lives overseas. They cannot claim to understand or represent the Cambodian people.”
The White House said in a statement Sunday’s vote was “neither free nor fair and failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people” and called on Hun Sen’s government to end the ban on political opposition.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 33 years, claimed in a Facebook post that there was a voter turnout of more than 80% Sunday. That’s significantly higher than the reported 68% voter turnout in 2013, when the CNRP won 44% of the vote.
“Thank you, dear compatriots, for casting your votes today! You did choose the democratic way and used your right as stipulated in the constitution, the supreme law of the country,” he said after the vote, according to Cambodian state media.
Cambodia has been a nominal democracy since 1993, following decades of war and conflict.
“A victory without a contest is a hollow one,” exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy said in a Facebook post Sunday. “For the first time in the 25 years since the elections organized by the United Nations in 1993, Cambodia lacks a legitimate government recognized by the international community … Denied a real choice, the vast majority of the Cambodian people have refused to participate in this sham election.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders criticized the election as a backward step.
“Genuine democracies tolerate opposing political views, foster competition through elections, and promote and protect the free exchange of ideas,” Sanders said.
“In contrast, in the months leading up to the vote, the Cambodian government placed ever tighter restrictions on independent media and civil society, dissolved the main opposition party, jailed the opposition leader, and banned that party’s senior leaders from participating in the political process.”
CNRP leaders Sochua and Monovithya Kem called on the international community to do more than just condemn Sunday’s result in their news conference Sunday. Sochua said other nations should refuse to do business with Hun’s regime.
“Condemning alone will not be enough,” Kem said. “Actions speak louder than words.”
Journalist Nathan A. Thompson contributed reporting