UN chief implicitly criticizes Cambodia’s upcoming elections after main opposition party banned

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres implicitly criticized Cambodia’s upcoming elections on Wednesday for not being inclusive, after the main opposition party was barred from registering .

The Candlelight Party would have been the only credible challenger to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in July’s elections, but the country’s Constitutional Council last week refused to overturn a ban on its registration in a final ruling.

“The Secretary-General reiterates that inclusive elections, in which a plurality of views and voter choices are represented, are important for building trust in the electoral process and strengthening the capacity of the Cambodian people to exercise their democratic rights,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. journalists.

“As (Guterres) said during his visit to Cambodia last year, it is vital that civic space is opened up, that human rights defenders are protected and that civil society plays a broader role in society, all of which remain critical to preserving Cambodia’s substantial development gains and peacebuilding,” said Dujarric.

He said, “The Secretary-General reaffirms the UN’s commitment to supporting a peaceful and democratic Cambodia that fully respects the human rights of all its citizens.”

The entrenched Cambodian People’s Party has held an iron grip on power for decades and controls almost all levels of government. Prime Minister Hun Sen, an authoritarian leader in a nominally democratic state, has held office for 38 years.

The Candlelight Party’s absence leaves only Hun Sen’s party, its allies and smaller parties that lack a national presence to contest the July 23 elections for the 125-member National Assembly.

Hun Sen’s eldest son, army chief Hun Manet, is widely expected to replace his father as prime minister after the election.

Prior to the Constitutional Council’s decision, independent UN human rights investigators, including Cambodian rights investigator Vitit Muntarbhorn, expressed concern over “restrictions on the right of political parties to participate in the elections,” citing the refusal of the electoral commission on May 16 to register the Candlelight Party.

After the Constitutional Council refused to overturn the election committee’s decision, the US State Department said it would not send official observers to witness the elections.

“Legal actions, threats, harassment and politically motivated criminal charges against opposition parties, independent media and civil society undermine Cambodia’s international commitments to develop as a multi-party democracy,” said spokesman Matthew Miller in a statement.

The Candlelight Party is the unofficial successor to the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which posed a serious challenge to Hun Sen’s party before it was dissolved by a controversial court ruling ahead of the 2018 elections.

Hun Sen’s party then swept these elections, winning all seats in the National Assembly. Western countries said the 2018 elections were neither free nor fair and imposed mild economic sanctions in response.

Most opposition politicians are now in self-imposed exile to avoid being imprisoned on various charges they deem to be false and unjust.

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