Foreign populist parties observe controversial Cambodia poll

Members of UKIP and right-wing parties in Europe are monitoring the seemingly lopsided election that ruler Hun Sen looks likely to win

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 10:36pm

A mishmash of populist and far-right party members from Europe and Asia are serving as election observers in Cambodia’s vote on Sunday while many western governments are keeping their distance.

With mainly obscure groups on the ballot, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party is all but assured of victory, extending prime minister Hun Sen’s 33 years in power and solidifying the drift towards a virtual one-party state.

Hun Sen backed a crackdown on the his political opponents last year. Authorities charged one of its leaders with treason while the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the main opposition party.

The US and EU have declined to send monitors. But officials have drawn on participation from observers with ties to the UK Independence Party, Italy’s Fratelli d’Italia, a pro-government party in Belarus and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, among others.

“We’re here for the people, to do this for the people,” said Richard Wood, who represented UKIP in 2015. He dismissed questions about whether their presence might legitimise a poll tainted by the lack of opposition.

“It’s not my position to say who’s who and what’s what,” he said. “I’m here for one reason only, to make sure that I observe.”

The National Election Committee says there are 538 foreign observers and thousands of domestic monitors, many with links to the ruling party.

Some observers interviewed by AFP painted a positive picture of the political situation in Cambodia.

“All we see is people dancing on the streets of Cambodia,” said Vijay Jolly from India’s ruling BJP. “I don’t think that anyone has to cast aspersions on the decisions of the Cambodian people.”

Luca Romagnoli, a member of the populist right-wing Fratelli d’Italia and a former MP in the European Parliament, said he was observing in a “casual” way and not as a representative of his party.

China tips the scales away from the US in push for Cambodian influence 

“We were in Azerbaijan a few months ago,” he said, referring to an observer mission to that country’s election in April, which some claimed was unfair.

Opposition leaders from the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party called for a boycott of the vote but authorities said urging others not to show up amounts to a crime.