Cambodia’s security forces have been accused of illegally campaigning for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ahead of this month’s general election.
Military commanders, gendarmes and police officers have been canvassing for the veteran prime minister in violation of Cambodia’s law requiring political neutrality, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The campaign for the July 29 poll began at the weekend.
The supreme court in Phnom Penh dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) last November over allegations it was involved in a US-backed conspiracy to stage a coup, banning many members from politics for five years.
Its parliamentary seats were redistributed to other parties that were less threatening to the CPP.
Observers have said Hun Sen watched the ease with which the Thai military removed a democratically elected government in May 2014 and decided he need not give up power through the ballot box.
The dissolution of the CNRP, the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha and the prolonged crackdown on NGOs and the media have all been seen as evidence that Hun Sen has abandoned any interest in democracy.
HRW said using the security services to canvass was in violation of Article 9 of the Law on the General Status of Military Personnel of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
The law states: “Military personnel shall be neutral in their functions and work activities, and the use of functions/titles and the state’s materials for any political activities shall be prohibited.”
Brad Adams, HRW’s regional chief, said: “To win a sham election, it is not enough for the ruling CPP to ban the opposition, control all election institutions and maintain a chokehold on the media.
“Apparently the CPP thinks it also needs to deploy some of the country’s most feared generals to campaign and intimidate people into going to the polls.”
Critics of Hun Sen face harsh punishments but with puppets and a camera, the anonymous “Vannak” risks his freedom to create short videos uploaded to Facebook condemning the government.
“Three things can happen to me. Either I will be deported, jailed or killed. But that will not stop me,” the 26-year-old said.
His puppet character “Seng-haa” addresses Hun Sen in one video.
“Very few people dare to tell the truth about what is happening in Cambodia since you have arrested many politicians, journalists, members of civil society and activists.”
Hun Sen has joined the dictator’s club. Picture credit: Kremlin