Cambodia’s Senate election proceeds without opposition

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 February, 2018, 4:41pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 February, 2018, 10:45pm

Voting for Cambodia’s Senate began on Sunday in an election decried by critics as a “farce”, with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party set to dominate months after the country’s only viable opposition party was dissolved.

Last year, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was disbanded in a court ruling not long after its leader Kem Sokha was arrested on treason charges.

Though the Senate vote arouses little interest in Cambodia because the upper house is seen as a rubber-stamp body and candidates are elected by other officials rather than the public, the result is a clear prelude to the national poll set for July.

“We expect to win overwhelmingly,” CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said, brushing off claims that the election is undemocratic. “CPP is regretful that we lost a main challenger but we cannot help [the CNRP] because they violated the law.”

Most the 62-seat Senate body is elected by thousands of local commune councillors and members of the National Assembly.

But the opposition CNRP will have no say as its parliamentary and commune seats were redistributed to other parties following the dissolution in November.

The CPP now holds more than 95 per cent of the commune councillor positions, comfortably enough to sweep the vote.

A total of four groups, including the royalist Funcinpec Party, are contesting the poll.

It is the first time that the Senate election is being held without a main opposition party. The six-year term Senate was formed in 1999 and its first election was in 2006.

Opposition figure Sam Rainsy, who helped co-found the CNRP, said in a statement from abroad that the election was a “farce” and urged the international community to condemn it.

The West and rights groups have accused Hun Sen of clearing out his rivals.

The EU and the US have pulled support for the general election in July.

Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said the main effect of the CPP’s recent clampdown “has been simply to remove the pretence [of democracy] and entrench a new era of less apologetic one-party domination”.

In the election on Sunday, 58 seats were being voted on, while the country’s king and the National Assembly each put forward two candidates to complete the total 62.