July 23, 2023
Updated 1 hour ago
Image source: Getty Images
Hun Sen has ensured his party does not face a major challenge in the polls
Cambodia’s longtime leader is almost certain to extend his party’s rule in an election on Sunday that is free of serious challengers.
Voters going to the polls in Phnom Penh told the BBC they expected the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to regain all 125 seats in parliament.
Hun Sen, who has been in power for 38 years, faces no real challenge after the only credible opposition party was disqualified in May.
Critics called the vote a scam.
“It’s a rigged election because there aren’t any really strong opposition parties,” one voter, a development worker in Phnom Penh, told the BBC earlier this week.
Western nations, including the US, have also raised concerns about the integrity of the vote. To ensure the highest possible turnout when people are not being offered a real choice, the government has criminalized any attempt to boycott the election or falsify ballots.
It comes as Hun Sen, who cast his ballot in the capital early Sunday morning, is showing the clearest signals yet that he plans to hand over power to his eldest son, Hun Manet – potentially within weeks. The military chief ran the CPP’s election campaign in place of his father.
Opposition MPs have reported violent attacks this year. Human Rights Watch reported that the government had increased intimidation and arbitrary arrests of political opponents in the run-up to the election.
In May the government banned the country’s main opposition party, the Candlelight Party, as a matter of form. The National Electoral Commission said the party lacked the paperwork it didn’t need for last year’s local elections.
Candlelight had won 22% of the vote last year – and analysts say Hun Sen saw them as a potential threat to his rule.
According to political analysts, Hun Sen’s rule has become increasingly authoritarian.
It is the second consecutive election in which Hun Sen has targeted democratic institutions and crippled the opposition ahead of Election Day, analysts say.
Seventeen other parties are contesting this year’s election, but nearly all are too small, too new, or allied with the ruling party to be credible contenders.
The vote comes at an uncertain time for Cambodia’s economy – locals are reporting problems with rising fuel prices, stagnant wages and mounting debt.
As Hun Sen campaigns for re-election, he has hinted that this could be his last term. In 2021, he will hand over control to his eldest son, who currently commands the Royal Cambodian Army.
Han Manet is the first candidate for a seat in Parliament in this election and led the final day of party rallies in Phnom Penh on Friday.
No timeframe for the transfer of power was given until Thursday, when Hun Sen announced his son could become prime minister in three or four weeks.
Hun Sen’s party has won all six national elections held every five years since the 1990s, when the United Nations helped the Southeast Asian country of 16 million become a functioning democracy after decades of civil war and the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.
For four decades he has consolidated his power through control of the military, police and money interests. Observers say he eliminated opponents by co-opting, imprisoning or banning him.