Without an opposition, Hun Sen vows runaway win in Cambodia polls

Agence France-Presse
Without an opposition, Hun Sen vows runaway win in Cambodia polls
The only serious challenger to the ruling Cambodian People's Party was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia’s strongman Hun Sen on Friday, July 27 hailed his success in eliminating “traitors” ahead of an election he cannot possibly lose, with no credible opposition left to challenge his 33-year rule of what has become a virtual one-party state.

Hun Sen addressed a huge crowd on the final day of campaigning ahead of Sunday’s vote, which promises to be an easy victory for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) despite calls for a boycott that Hun Sen decried.

Tens of thousands of supporters decked in the ruling party’s white and blue arrived from dawn in the center of the capital, some on motorbikes and buses, in an impressive show of support.

But it will be the only political showing of significant scale ahead of the election after the sole serious opposition was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November.

In typically bombastic style, Hun Sen vowed victory on Sunday and took a swipe at his opponents, many of whom have been jailed, prodded into self-exile or gone to ground inside the kingdom since the ruling.

“Recently we took legal action to eliminate traitors who attempted to topple the government,” he said of the court ruling that disbanded the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

“If we didn’t eliminate them with an iron fist, maybe by now Cambodia would be in a situation of war.”

A pillar of Hun Sen’s appeal is that he has presided over peace and a level of prosperity since the early 1990s when Cambodia emerged from decades of war and the trauma of the Khmer Rouge regime which killed one quarter of the population from 1975-79.

His party has won every election since 1998 while Hun Sen, 65, has maintained control through a tight patronage network and family alliances.

“With the CPP we have growth, we have schools, peace… everything,” said supporter Khun Bopha of a party that now presides over an economy chugging along at a growth rate of around six to seven percent.

“We will have a big win on July 29.”

‘Sham process’

The Supreme Court knocked out the opposition after Hun Sen accused CNRP members of plotting against the government.

But the crackdown took place after the CNRP performed well in local elections last year, building on the 55 seats they won in parliament in the national poll in 2013.

Rights groups, NGOs and the media were all swept up in the wide-ranging push as Hun Sen quashed critical voices and challengers.

The opposition, many of whose key members fled the country, have urged supporters to boycott the poll in a “clean finger” campaign to refuse to be inked at polling stations.

Election authorities have said calls to boycott are a “crime” and have already fined five former members of the opposition in northern Cambodia after accusing them of endorsing the anti-election campaign.

Hun Sen also warned against the attempt in his speech.

“Those against the election are the ones who destroy the nation and democracy and should not be forgiven,” he said.

The United States and the European Union have pulled assistance and monitors but staunch Cambodia ally China has stepped in to provide equipment.

Cambodia has held six elections – including the first UN-sponsored poll in 1993 – after the country of 15 million emerged from decades of civil war.

Hun Sen has cast himself as the savior of the country from the ravages of the Khmer Rouge, even though he was a former member of the ultra-Maoist group.

“I love the prime minister because he leads the country in a good way and we have peace,” garment worker Sao Phirun, 32, told AFP at the rally.

Asked about Cambodia being a one-party state, she said she didn’t care.

Twenty parties are running in the election but many are of obscure origins and have been criticized for helping legitimize the ballot.

“Cambodia’s election is a sham process that is designed to prolong Hun Sen’s authoritarian rule and will plunge the country into further misery and repression,” International Federation for Human Rights Secretary-General Debbie Stothard said in a statement Thursday. – Rappler.com


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