Hints at new law to remove right to contest polls if someone has a history of declining to vote
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a 135km expressway from the capital Phnom Penh to Bavet city in Svay Rieng province on the Cambodia-Vietnam border, in Phnom Penh on June 7, 2023. (Photo:AFP)
In what is being widely seen as encouraging more people to cast ballots in July 13 polls, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is considering a law change which would remove the right to stand for elections if a candidate has a record of declining to vote.
“Anyone who wishes to stand as a candidate at elections must be a good citizen of the nation in a democratic society, starting with exercising the right to vote,” Hun Sen said, according to a dispatch from the government mouthpiece Fresh News.
“In this sense, any individual who does not go to vote without a valid reason will be considered to have lost the right to stand as a candidate at elections,” he said.
“But they still have the right to vote as a citizen.”
Hun Sen said he had ordered Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Justice Minister Koeut Rith to amend laws to remove the right to stand as a candidate at elections for any individual who does not go to vote.
Observers said officials were sensitive to a low voter turnout which might be perceived as an indication of dissatisfaction with the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), which has ruled the Southeast Asian nation since 1979.
"Dissuading people from voting is a crime"
Voting is not compulsory in Cambodia. However, Hun Sen has warned opposition politicians — banned from contesting the poll — not to encourage people to boycott the election, which only his CPP can win.
Last week, the National Elections Committee (NEC) warned people who urged citizens not to vote they could be fined or face prison terms for "disturbing the electoral process."
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea has urged the authorities to act against anyone, advocating an electoral boycott.
“Dissuading people from voting is a crime that demonstrates that those who organize and carry out the actions are the ones who use the phrase ‘democracy’ as a shield, whereas, in reality, they are the ones who subvert democracy and thwart elections in Cambodia,” he said.
The CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly in 2018 with a voter turnout of almost 83 percent after the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) was outlawed by the courts.
It is a feat that could be repeated since the Candlelight Party, forged out of the remnants of the CNRP, was disqualified by the NEC from contesting the polls after it failed to lodge the correct paperwork.
It won about 22.5 percent of the popular vote at last year’s commune elections.
More than 9.7 million people have registered to vote with 18 political parties fielding candidates in the upcoming polls.
Of these, seven are new and have little standing. The rest are expected not to win any seats, going by their performance in the 2018 elections.
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