PHNOM PENH — The ruling party of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed a sweeping win in Sunday’s elections for the country’s Senate, a victory that it assured itself by eliminating any serious opposition from the contest.
Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the Cambodian People’s Party, said it had won a landslide victory. Privately, the party was claiming to have won all 58 of the seats that were voted on by the country’s 11,572 commune councilors.
Two additional senators are appointed by the National Assembly and another two by King Norodom Sihamoni.
Sunday’s vote was seen as a foretaste of a scheduled July general election for the National Assembly that is also expected to affirm Hun Sen’s rule.
The only opposition party in Parliament, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved in November after aggressive legal challenges by the government were sustained by the politicized courts.
Government supporters then replaced the party’s members of Parliament and its commune councilors – the voters in Sunday’s polls.
Hun Sen has been in power for three decades, and while maintaining a framework of democracy, tolerates little opposition. His grip seemed shaken by 2013’s general election, when the Cambodia National Rescue Party mounted a strong challenge, winning 55 seats in the National Assembly and leaving Hun Sen’s party with 68.
The opposition party also made a strong showing in last year’s commune council elections, capturing 5,007 of the 11,572 councilor positions.
After last year’s commune council elections, Hun Sen’s ruling party then stepped up its steady offensive against critics and opponents. Media outlets seen as critical of the government were forced to shut down, and most senior members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party fled the country.
“Without the presence of the main opposition that has 55 (members of Parliament) and 5,007 commune councilors representing the will of the people, there will be no real free and fair competition as determined by the principles of free, fair and inclusive elections,” said a pre-election statement on the Senate election from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, emailed by Mu Sochua, its former deputy president, now in exile.
“We urge the United Nations and the international community to denounce the holding of the Senate election this weekend and to take immediate and stringent measures including sanctions as a signal that it will not condone dictatorship,” it said.
The United States, and last week, Germany, have banned issuing visas to certain Cambodian officials considered responsible for the deterioration of democracy. Rights groups have also been highly critical.
“Unfortunately, the Cambodian Senate will continue to stand as yet another sad reminder of Cambodia’s unmitigated descent into outright dictatorship,” said Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, comprising Southeast Asian lawmakers.
Only three small parties with no national followings ran candidates against the ruling party for seats in the Senate, which has no significant decision-making powers.
Story: Sopheng Cheang