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Cambodia lawmakers who boycott election face ban from office

June 23, 2023

The threat of not being eligible for office for the next two decades hangs over the opposition lawmakers who were considering a boycott of the national ballot.

Cambodia Parliament
The Cambodian People's Party holds all the seats in parliamentImage: De Ratha/Cambodia National Assembly/AFP

Cambodia's parliament decided unanimously on Friday to ban lawmakers from running for office if they do not vote in the country's election next month.

Lawmakers who snub Cambodia election to be banned from office
Politicians who snub Cambodia election to be banned from office

Ahead of election, Cambodia amends law to bar non-voters
Cambodia election: Lawmakers who don't vote will lose right to run for office

MPs who boycott Cambodia election will be banned from office

The incumbent prime minister for almost 40 years, Hun Sen last week ordered parliament to amend the law ahead of the nationwide ballot, set to take place on July 23.

Anyone not voting "without an appropriate reason... will lose the right to run for office in four consecutive elections," Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, said in a statement. Additionally, he said, "The amendments impose fines and punish individuals who disrupt and obstruct the voter registration process...(and) the election."

Opponents have suggested boycotting next month's election, which critics claim will be a sham because of Hun Sen's efforts to stamp out opposing figures.

At the last election in 2018, Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) secured all of the parliamentary seats, having acquired 4.8 million votes out of the 6.9 million cast. Despite calls to boycott that election five years ago, voter turnout was alleged to be over 80%, according to the Asian country's National Election Commission.

HRW: 'Dictatorship playing democracy game'

There have been no overt calls for an election boycott this time around but critics have expressed alarm over what they see as a campaign of intimidation and public threats by Hun Sen and the CPP.

"This really shows that this is a dictatorship that is playing in the democracy game," Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said, adding that "civil rights and political liberty have been completely, totally restricted by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government."

Already one of the world's longest-serving leaders, Hun Sen is aiming to extend his rule and has hinted at eventually passing on power to his son Hun Manet.

Does Cambodia have a viable opposition?

Throttling the opposition

Scores of opposition figures have been convicted during his time at the helm.

Opposition leader Kem Sokha was handed down a 27-year jail term in March this year for treason relating to an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

Another opposition figure, Sam Rainsy, has been living in France since 2015. He has yet to return to his homeland in order to avoid a jail term for convictions he says are politically motivated.

In February, one of Cambodia's last independent news outlets, Voice of Democracy (VOD), was forcibly shut down. This was allegedly due to VOD naming the prime minister's son, and not the prime minister himself, as the signatory of a foreign aid document.

Cambodia's longest-serving prime minister

Hun Sen first became prime minister in 1985. He served as the country's PM for the next eight years before sharing the leadership from 1993.

He became Cambodia's sole leader again in 1998 and is now the longest-serving prime minister in Cambodian history.

Cambodia shuts down independent media outlet

jsi/sms (Reuters, AFP)