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Cambodia amends election laws ahead of national polls

History of voting now a must for candidates, authorities defend democratic record amid mounting criticism

Cambodia amends election laws ahead of national polls

Lawmakers attend a meeting at the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh on June 23, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 23, 2023 07:57 AM GMT

Updated: June 23, 2023 09:42 AM GMT

A hastily reconvened National Assembly in Cambodia has amended electoral laws to ensure only people with a history of voting are eligible to stand as candidates in future elections in the midst of calls for a boycott of next month’s polls.

The long ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) controls all 125 seats in the assembly and on June 23 passed the amendments to four electoral laws with the support of 111 parliamentarians  following a request from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Under the amendments, a potential candidate must have voted in two consecutive previous elections. 

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“The law amendment that was made right now has a purpose in protecting the election process from political plans or tricks of attempting to destroy elections,” Interior Minister Sar Kheng said during a plenary session of the assembly.

This amendment will promote the value of democracy, including promoting the responsibility of political leaders who wish to stand as candidates for elections, he added.

The changes were made after government officials accused opposition politicians of trying to subvert next month's polls by advocating a boycott.

Given past performances, Hun Sen’s CPP is the only party capable of winning any seats at the upcoming election. Of the 17 other political parties competing against it, most can only claim a support base of about 2 percent, or less, of the overall vote share.

Hun Sen is facing mounting criticism ahead of the July 23 ballot, more so since the National Election Committee disqualified the opposition Candlelight Party from contesting the poll, claiming incorrect paperwork during the registration process.

Western nations are refusing to send monitors amid threats of sanctions and a warning from the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Cambodia was facing shrinking civic space. 

However, the government insists the election will be democratic.

“Cambodia’s commitment to a multiparty democracy and promotion and protection of human rights remains steadfast,” the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN Office said from Geneva in a statement earlier this week.

The Washington Post recently said in an editorial that this would amount to a “lopsided win in a rigged parliamentary election” which meant the CPP is “on track to win all the 125 seats of the National Assembly, mirroring the result of the last such charade in 2018.”

Cambodia has also been sharply criticized by the US State Department over human trafficking, which escalated sharply during the pandemic. It has left Cambodia in its bottom Tier 3 category in its Trafficking in Persons Report for 2023.

“Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes, including by high-level senior officials, remained widespread and endemic, resulted in selective and politically motivated enforcement of laws, and inhibited law enforcement action during the year,” it said.

"Authorities did not investigate or hold criminally accountable any officials involved in widespread, credible reports of complicity, in particular with unscrupulous business owners who subjected thousands of men, women, and children throughout the country to human trafficking.”


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