PNOM PENH: The Federal Government has been urged to reject the results of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s landslide election win overnight, a victory widely slammed as a sham.
Hun Sen, the world’s longest-serving prime minister, added at least another five years to his tenure after preliminary results suggested his party may have all 125 of the country’s parliamentary seats.
Sunday’s general election was Cambodia’s fifth since a $2 billion UN peacekeeping force restored peace and brought democracy to the Southeast Asian nation in the early 1990s following decades of instability and war.
But observers like Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights argue it was the Southeast Asian nation’s least free and fair poll to date after the main opposition, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved by the courts and its leader Kem Sokha imprisoned for treason.
In addition to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, candidates for 19 minor parties appeared on the ballot, but most were unknown to voters and all except one are either aligned with or proxies of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
The main Cambodian opposition party, which was banned from competing in the elections, has called on the Turnbull government to impose travel and asset sanctions on the Hun Sen regime.
“Our people went to the Australian ambassador in Phnom Penh and said ‘Madam Ambassador, is this what Australia wants? A continued dictatorship? You must be on the side of democracy’,” Mu Sochua, deputy leader of the now-dissolved CNRP, said in an interview to aired on ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night.
“I said to Minister [Julie] Bishop, ‘please use visa sanctions. Please use active, concrete measures’, Ms Sochua was quoted as saying.
“The people of Cambodia look up at the people of Australia, Australians. We envy you. You live in a world of democracy, but your government is disappointing.”
Held in an environment of fear and intimidation, no one dared protest as the poll denigrated from sham to farce when the ABC caught Cambodian Information Minister Kheiu Kanarith handing out hundreds of dollars in cash to Cambodian journalist in front of a polling station in the capital.
“I will vote for the CPP because I have no choice. If I vote for a small party, my vote is wasted,” a convenience store worker in the capital Phnom Penh said on condition of anonymity fearing government reprisal.
The CPP’s victory in the poll could not be verified because Australia, the EU and other states and organisations that normally fund Cambodian elections and provide accredited electoral monitors refused to participate over concerns the electoral process was not credible.
Cambodia’s independent election monitoring groups, COMFREL and NICFEC, also refused to participate citing fears for the safety of their staff.
“It is dangerous so we keep silent,” COMFREL monitoring coordinator Kom Savang said.
“Plain-clothed police sit in the coffee shop outside our office all day taking photos of everyone who comes here.”
Instead, voting was monitored by tens of thousands of CPP party members, a group headed by one of Hun Sen’s sons and foreign ‘observers for hire’ like Romanian Anton Caragea of the little-known World Election Monitoring Organisation, who described Cambodia’s the poll as “perfect”.
The Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors in Washington DC disagreed.
“It is our opinion that the 80,000 domestic observers authorised by the National Election Committee show neither the autonomy nor the skills to conduct an independent, reliable assessment of the elections,” read a statement signed by 23 of its global group members.
On Sunday night, Cambodia’s National Election Committee claimed 82.5 per cent of the country’s 9.6 million eligible voters participated in the poll.
But the figure flies in the face of observations by The New Daily, Reuters and Al Jazeera of “uncharacteristically quiet” polling stations in the capital where “election workers outnumbered voters” by 10 am local time.
“If I vote, Hun Sen wins. If I don’t vote, he also wins. Does he think we’re stupid?” said a waitress in Phnom Penh who observed calls by the scattered and exiled remnants of the opposition to boycott the poll despite being “reminded” to vote by four different officials in the past week.
Millions of other Cambodians were warned their houses and land would be confiscated or they’d lose their jobs for boycotting the poll, despite voting being non-compulsory in Cambodia.
Cambodia’s descent into outright dictatorship comes after Australia and 45 other nations that contributed funds and personnel to the UN Peacekeeping mission and have continued to provide billions in foreign aid to strengthen democracy and human rights in the country.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s most recent Democracy Index, the Royal Government of Cambodia is no longer a ‘hybrid regime’. It’s a fully fledged ‘authoritarian’ one.
“As a Cambodian-Australian, we are all so frustrated with what is happening in Cambodia,” Meng Haeng Tak, a Councillor for the City of Dandenong who joined a protest in Melbourne against Hun Sen on the weekend, said.
“We thought the UN peace mission to oversee the first democratic elections in Cambodia would have brought the country to a better place, but now all of that is gone. From today onwards, democracy is dead in Cambodia.”