Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Political Parties End Campaigning As Elections Dominated by CPP Loom

Prime Minister Hun Sen's son Hun Manet and CPP members march in Phnom Penh during the last day of campaigning on July 21, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Prime Minister Hun Sen's son Hun Manet and CPP members march in Phnom Penh during the last day of campaigning on July 21, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

The eighteen political parties allowed to compete in the national elections dominated by the ruling CPP wrapped up their campaigns on Friday as voters prepare to head to the polls on Sunday.

Notably absent was the leading opposition Candlelight Party, which had been disqualified from participating in the elections. In the past weeks, its members have faced arrest and fines for allegedly calling for voters to spoil their ballots in protest.

The ruling CPP held a large rally on Friday at Koh Pich in Phnom Penh — the same site as its opening day rally — and urged people to vote on July 23. 

Hun Manet, the first full-fledged candidate in the Phnom Penh constituency, addressed a crowd of nearly 60,000 supporters, according to the party’s own estimates.

“Overall, our party’s election campaign over the past 20 days has been smooth,” Manet said.

He added he was confident that the electorate was well aware of the poisonous tricks and dangers of extremism and said his party would continue to promote peace and prosperity.

“A handful of extremists continue to try to find ways to destroy this election, however, still cannot hide the truth of Cambodia,” he said. 

Members of the CPP march in Phnom Penh during the last day of campaigning on July 21, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

On Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested Maneth could take over the prime minister role within one month of elections. 

At a Phnom Penh rally on Friday for the largest opposition party allowed to participate in the elections, Funcinpec president Prince Norodom Chakravuth said he hoped his party could gain some representation in the National Assembly. 

The party had received 1.27% of the vote in the commune election’s last year.

“In order to let things work, the important thing is that I need a seat. I ask the NEC [National Election Committee], please be honest with us, I told the NEC that it is so important because it is our Khmer life,” Chakravuth said.

“The important thing is helping people who are miserable. I am the grandson of Loung Ta [Prince Norodom Sihanouk], I will protect my people,” he added.

Prince Norodom Chakravuth, president of Funcinpec party leads an election campaign in Phnom Penh on July 21, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Funcinpec supporter Yar Channaret, a 35-year-old Phnom Penh resident, said she hopes the party can help tackle Cambodia’s drug issues. 

“I hope he will win this election, I hope he will help solve the drug problem in this society, because drugs destroy the future of youth and development for the next generation of Cambodians,” she said. 

Members of Funcinpec party  march in Phnom Penh during the last day of campaigning on July 21, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

The 16 other minor opposition parties made a range of promises, most commonly improving social benefits, raising the minimum wage, enhancing the education system and clamping down on corruption, the Kamnotra database noted.

Websites and social media pages linked to Kamnotra, along with RFA and the Cambodia Daily, were blocked by a government order made pubic earlier this week for allegedly undermining the government’s “honor and prestige.”

“A Gloomy Political Environment”

NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea said that since campaigning began “it has been good and no negative things happened during the campaign.”

Yet the NEC received around 30 complaints during the campaign period, mostly from people complaining about the new election amendment barring people who did not vote from running for office in the future, spokesperson Prach Chan noted. He described these complaints as mostly “online propaganda” by people who were “not satisfied.”

He also highlighted the more than 400 international observers from 60 institutions.

“The reason they come a lot is because they are interested in the democratic process in Cambodia, how far it has progressed, and especially we do everything according to the constitution, according to our law, we have not changed anything other than that, it is an action of democracy,” he said.

Prominent human rights organization Adhoc told CamboJA it would not meet with any of these observers, while Licadho stated it would not meet with a French organization. 

The “upcoming election bears little resemblance to an actual democratic process,” Human Rights Watch stated on July 19.

Korn Savang, monitoring and advocacy program coordinator of the election monitoring NGO Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), observed that some irregularities occurred during the election campaign. 

One minor opposition party had been blocked by authorities from entering its opening day campaign site because the ruling CPP had reportedly reserved the site despite holding its own rally on the other side of the city. 

Comfrel’s Savang noted that schools had been closed and students participated in ruling CPP rallies during school hours, despite laws prohibiting students from doing so, as CamboJA reported last week.

Savang added that some cars traveled the streets to campaign with their licensed plates removed or hidden, suggesting they were state-owned vehicles — a violation of law.

“There are many cars without number plates that are suspected to be state cars,” he said. “But the cars removed the number plates and put white paper on the number plates so that they would not be identified as state cars.”

Licadho operations director Am Sam Ath said during the election campaign his organization had received complaints about the detention of activists, citing the imprisonment of nine Koh Kong land rights activists. 

“This is an important point that each political party should consider, as we have seen, civil society organizations, the European Union and the Human Rights Council call for the restoration of respect for human rights and democracy, especially the opening up of civil liberties,” he said.

“Cambodia has a gloomy political environment leading to elections,” he added. “And it does not seem to be open to political freedom.”

(Additional reporting by Runn Sreydeth, Pok Ponlue and Hel Komsan)

Nhek Bunchay (right) president and Nhem Ponhariddh (left) vice president of the Khmer National United Party march in Phnom Penh during the last day of campaigning on July 21, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring SAmrang)
Khmer National United Party members march in Phnom Penh during the last day of campaigning on July 21, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring SAmrang)