PHNOM PENH (Cambodia) -- Sunday's local elections were the first opportunity for Cambodians to vote since Hun Sen, the long-serving Prime Minister, won a 2018 general election widely criticized as unfair.
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party will be able to win easily again after what the U.N. Human Rights Office said Thursday was a pattern in "threats and intimidation targeting opposition candidates." "
The agency stated that candidates have been subject to a variety of restrictions and reprisals, including the imprisonment of some candidates in an apparent attempt to stop political campaigning. The agency stated that at least six of the opposition candidates and activists were detained four days before polls. They were awaiting trial while others had fled to hide on politically motivated charges.
The Cambodian delegation at the U.N. Geneva office stated in a statement that criticisms were "erroneous," "politized and selective" and "all political parties, even opposition ones, have fully exercised all their rights in accordance with the laws and registered Schedules without threats or obstruction."
Hun Sen and his spouse cast their ballots Sunday morning at Kandal province, near Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen, an authoritarian ruler of a nominally democratic country, has been in power for 37 years. He stated that he plans to remain in office until 2028, and endorsed one his sons as his successor.
His party is the only one that has candidates in all 1,652 communes. The Candlelight Party is its only serious competitor. It has candidates in 1,632 communes and the royalist FUNCINPEC party has challengers within 688 communes. A total of 82 786 candidates are from 17 political parties that have 9.2 million voters.
Local elections are held one year before the general election and are considered a test of parties' strength.
The main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was unexpectedly strong in the 2017 communal elections. This led Hun Sen's government, as well as other independent media, to clamp down on the party. The Supreme Court dissolved the party on a charge treason. This was widely interpreted as being politically motivated.
Hun Sen's party won the general election without the Cambodian National Rescue Party.
After concluding that the 2018 election was not free or fair, several Western countries imposed sanctions against the government. The European Union took the harshest measures, withholding some preferential trading privileges.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was disbanded by its members and also expelled from their political positions, is still banned. Most of its top leaders are now in exile.
Although the Candlelight Party has been severely restricted in its activities, it is seeking to challenge ruling party by rallying former supporters.
Sam Rainsy was Hun Sen's main political rival. He founded the original Candlelight Party in 1995. It later became the Cambodia National Rescue Party. After being subject to legal harassment, Sam Rainsy fled France and became self-exiled. The co-founder of Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokokha, is currently facing trial on a treason charge.