Cambodian opposition ignore warnings of intimidation as campaigning begins for local elections

Opposition now claims it has a better chance of winning after it nearly upset the ruling party in general elections in 2013

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2017, 7:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2017, 9:55pm

Cambodia’s main opposition party believes it has momentum on its side in next month’s local elections, which will gauge support for Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of national polls next year.

The US State Department called on the government to avoid threats and political intimidation as the two-week campaigning for the June 4 communal elections started yesterday with tens of thousands of supporters of Hun Sen’s ruling party and the main opposition party flooding the streets of the capital.

Hun Sen has ruled for three decades, and he has warned of civil war if voters do not support his ruling Cambodian People’s Party. In the last communal elections in 2012, his party won 60 per cent of the vote compared to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s 30.6 per cent.

But the opposition now claims it has a better chance of winning after it nearly upset the ruling party in general elections in 2013, triggering its boycott of the legis­lature that ended with the oppo­sition returning to parliament after it struck a deal with the long-time ruler.

A State Department spokeswoman for East Asia, Alicia Edwards, said in Washington that the US was urging the Cambodian government to “guarantee a political space free from threats or intimidation” and respect freedom of expression for all its citizens.

Cambodia’s defence minister has reportedly warned that the army will “smash the teeth” of anyone protesting a win by the ruling party.

Although accused of violence and intimidation of opponents, Hun Sen could also take some credit for bringing modest economic growth and stability in a country devastated by the communist Khmer Rouge’s regime in the 1970s.