ASEAN MPs criticize intimidation in lead-up to Cambodian polls

General Press Releases Tuesday June 12, 2018 10:44
Bangkok--12 Jun--ASEAN Parliamentarian Human Rights

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) raised serious concerns today over growing reports of intimidation and repressive measures taken by Cambodian authorities to ensure a high voter turnout in the country's upcoming parliamentary election.

The collective of regional lawmakers said the moves further undermined the legitimacy of the vote, scheduled for 29 July, and argued that individuals' choices of whether or not to participate in the polls must be respected. MPs also reiterated their call for the reinstatement of the now-dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the release of all political prisoners, including opposition leader Kem Sokha.

"The government's latest moves to pressure and intimidate voters weaken its case that the upcoming election will be a true reflection of popular will," said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament. "The government is denying Cambodian citizens their basic rights to express their political views and participate in a democratic process without fear of reprisal. This toxic, threatening environment makes an already dubious election even less free."

In recent weeks, Cambodian authorities have ramped up efforts to pressure citizens to turn out to vote in July, publicly warning of repercussions against those who chose otherwise, particularly since former opposition leader Sam Rainsy began calling for voters to boycott the polls in early April. On 4 June, the government announced the creation of an inter-ministerial working group that will monitor and control the dissemination of online information found to undermine "national security," including social media posts that urge Cambodians to abstain from voting. Last month, a senior ruling party official said publicly that individuals who do not have voting ink stains on their fingers would be identified as "guerillas and traitors."

"The government's actions are clearly driven by concerns over the legitimacy of the vote. But coercing voters to pay lip service to democratic principles will not improve the polls' legitimacy," Santiago emphasized. "The inappropriate pressure on voters, in fact, violates their fundamental freedoms, particularly given the government's denial of a real choice at the ballot box."

Parliamentarians said the absence of the CNRP, the country's largest opposition party prior to its dissolution by Cambodia's Supreme Court in November 2017, prevented the process from being fair, inclusive, or credible. The party's dissolution, along with the banning of 118 senior party members from politics, came in the context of an unprecedented attack on civil society, independent media, and opposition voices following the CNRP's strong showing in June 2017 commune council elections, in which it received over 40 percent of all votes cast.

"A vote without a viable opposition will be a farcical exercise," said Philippine Congressman and APHR member Tom Villarin. "In such a situation, refusing to vote must be recognized as a legitimate right and a form of affirmative political choice to show disapproval of the electoral process."

APHR also expressed concerns over statements threatening to take action against anyone who "appeals, incites, or prevents citizens" from voting, including those calling for a boycott of the election. Earlier this week, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana ordered the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor to initiate legal proceedings against Sam Rainsy under the new lese-majeste law. This was in response to his comment on the veracity of a letter issued last week by King Norodom Sihamoni, which urged Cambodians to participate in the vote.

"Elections should be about fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the people. The way things are proceeding in Cambodia, however, the people's aspirations seem to be at the bottom of the government's priority list," Villarin concluded. "International governments and other actors should think twice about sending observers, which could inadvertently lend credence to a deeply illegitimate process."


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