Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday commenced his ruling party’s campaign for an election later this month – a poll that has been criticised as a sham after the main opposition party was prevented from running.
The 70-year-old strongman, who has ruled the Southeast Asian nation of 16 million for four decades, spoke before a crowd in the capital of Phnom Penh. He stood beside his son Hun Manet, who is also a candidate in the polls and widely tipped as his successor.
Hun Sen said his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has ensured peace, socio-economic development and the strengthening of democracy, adding that rights and freedoms were being respected.
But he also warned that any attempts to incite “social disorder” or rebellion would be put down.
Other than the CPP, only small parties with little funding or popularity will be standing in the July 23 election.
The main opposition party was dissolved in 2017 over an alleged coup attempt, with scores of its members imprisoned. A party formed from its remnants was barred in May over a paperwork discrepancy.
Hun Sen also recently ordered Cambodia’s parliament to revise the law so that anyone who does not vote will be barred from contesting any future elections.
Prominent opposition figure Sam Rainsy has labelled the election a sham. The U.S. has said it is “deeply troubled” by the “undemocratic actions” ahead of the polls and will not send official observers to attend an electoral process “many independent Cambodian and international experts assess is neither free nor fair”.
This week Hun Sen quit Facebook for Telegram. Meta’s (META.O) oversight board said on Thursday he should be suspended for six months for a post in which he said people who accused the CPP of buying votes in a previous election could face a beating from CPP supporters.
The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications said late Friday they would deport a Meta representative and Cambodia would cease all cooperation with the company, attributing the move to an abundance of fake accounts, data risks, and lack of transparency.
Hun Sen has made no comment on the Meta case. Government spokesperson Phay Siphan on Thursday denied knowledge of the case and said the switch to Telegram was made because it was easier to use and could reach more people.
A Meta representative declined to comment.
During Hun Sen’s rule – one of the world’s longest premierships – political rivals have been jailed or exiled, critical media outlets shuttered and civil dissent crushed.
In recent months he has hinted that he will hand power to Hun Manet, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point.