Cambodia’s security forces have paraded in riot gear with assault rifles at a sports stadium in Phnom Penh ahead of Sunday’s general election which has largely been dismissed by international observers.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, 65, who has ruled since 1985, is set to win a massive parliamentary majority after the main opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved last year and dissent from civil society and the independent media has been silenced.
CNRP leader Kem Sokha is being held for treason in pre-trial detention near the border with Vietnam.
Around 4,620 personnel in flak jackets and armed with automatic rifles gathered at the Olympic Stadium to apparently discourage street protests during the election.
The capital’s Police Chief Chuon Sovann said they would be deployed across the city to maintain “security” on Sunday. He did not reveal how the purchase of the equipment was funded in one of Asia’s poorest countries.
“All of these forces have a duty to prevent, stop and crackdown on every case that leads to the obstruction of the election,” Chuon Sovann told the parade.
The police chief said his officers would break up any attempt to disperse anyone urging people not to vote.
The government said calls to boycott the vote were illegal but NGOs disagree.
The Voice of America reported that the government had ordered the arrest of anyone who uploaded images on social media as part of an election boycott campaign.
The Interior Minister said Cambodians who were found to have taken part in the campaign could be fined up to US$5,000.
Kem Monovithya, Kem Sokha’s daughter, said the riot parade showed that the vote was far from democratic.
“This is evidence that the election is not only being conducted without a viable opposition, it is also conducted under threat, forcing people to go to vote in a fake election,” Kem Monovithya told the media.
The European Parliament, International Conference of Asian Political Parties, Asian Parliamentary Assembly and Asean Inter-Parliament Assembly were among the organisations sending monitors, said Kem Reat Viseth, the head of election monitoring.
“They will speak the truth from what they see,” he told the media.
The European Union would not send any observers, said ambassador George Edgar.
“The EU will not send a monitoring mission for Sunday’s election,” he said. Appearing to contradict Kem Reat, Edgar added: “I am not aware of any plans by members of the European Parliament to monitor the election.”
Prime Minister Hen Sen is ready for his coronation. Picture credit: YouTube