The government of Japan has urged Cambodia to hold fair and free elections following five years of brutal crackdowns on political opponents and parties that dare challenge Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
The calls for transparency and fair election procedures came during a state visit to Phnom Penh by Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday.
“Prime Minister Kishida expressed his intention to support the promotion of democracy and the rule of law,” Phnom Penh and Tokyo said in a joint statement after Kishida met with Hun Sen.
The statement said the two discussed holding elections that reflect the “diverse voices from Cambodian people.”
“Samdech Techo Prime Minister [Hun Sen] appreciated Japan’s support in this field and expressed his intention to make further efforts to embed the outcomes of these support into the Cambodian society,” the statement said.
Cambodians will head to the polls on June 5 for local commune elections. Over the past five years, Hun Sen’s government has used state power to try to silence all relevant political opposition.
The Supreme Court banned the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November 2017 for its supposed role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government, arresting key figures as sending others fleeing into exile.
This was the beginning of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs and independent media outlets that paved the way for the CPP to win all 125 seats in the country’s July 2018 general election.
Though the joint Japan-Cambodia statement appeared to show that Hun Sen was receptive to more fair election procedures, officials in his party over the past year have been targeting the Candlelight Party, a reconstituted opposition party whose members say is increasingly seen as a threat to the status quo.
At least three Candlelight Party activists have been arrested, and many more have been prevented from registering to compete as candidates in the upcoming election. To date, the party has registered 1,652 candidates across the country but has not decided on whether it will participate in the election.
RFA reported last week that the Candlelight Party had met with the Ministry of Interior to request that authorities prevent intimidation and harassment of its members.
The U.S Embassy in Phnom Penh, responding to media inquiries on the upcoming election, expressed concern over “eroding human rights and the weakening of democratic institutions in Cambodia.
“As a friend to the Kingdom, we support the Cambodian people and their constitutional right to democracy and fundamental freedoms. We encourage an electoral process that is inclusive of all political stakeholders and in which all Cambodians can enjoy their political rights,” said Stephanie Arzate, the embassy’s spokesperson.