Ruling Party’s ‘Landslide Victory’ at The Polls Lacks Legitimacy

It is clear that the landslide victory by Cambodia’s ruling party in an election in which opposition forces were excluded lacks legitimacy. Hereditary succession under a dictatorship is also unlikely to gain the backing of the international community.

Cambodia’s election commission has announced the final results of a general election held on July 23. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, secured nearly all the parliamentary seats, winning 120 of 125 in the National Assembly.

The Hun Sen administration wields influence over the election commission, which did not allow the major opposition Candlelight Party to participate in the poll, citing a failure to provide necessary documents. Given that, the ruling party’s overwhelming victory appears to have been preordained. As in the previous poll in 2018, this race became a general election in which credible opposition forces were excluded.

In the latest election, Hun Manet — Hun Sen’s eldest son who has been nominated by his father to succeed the premiership — won his first seat in the parliament. Hun Manet is set to be approved as the new prime minister at a parliamentary session to be convened in late August.

Hun Manet has served as an army commander. He has little political experience. After stepping down as prime minister, Hun Sen reportedly intends to stay on as the ruling party’s leader and run in a Senate election next year to become the president of the chamber.

It is clear that Hun Sen is trying to establish a “cloistered government” under the guardianship of his son. This is a flagrant attempt to appropriate power.

The Cambodian People’s Party claims that the election results show the people’s support for Hun Manet to become the new prime minister, but this claim is not convincing. The party probably staged the “landslide victory” in order to justify the hereditary succession.

The United Nations, Japan and Western countries have supported Cambodia’s efforts to democratize and recover from its civil war, which lasted more than 20 years. However, it can be said that Cambodia’s progress toward democratization, backed by the international community, is now almost back to square one.

Hun Sen’s strong-arm rule, which has failed to meet the expectations of the international community, has been supported by China. Hoping to use Cambodia as a foothold for expanding its influence in Southeast Asia, China has provided the country with huge amounts of economic aid, and the Hun Sen administration has used economic development to cement power.

While the United States has criticized the July election as “neither free nor fair,” China’s stance has been to defend the poll. Beijing bears a heavy responsibility for reversing Phnom Penh’s democratization.

China’s loans to developing countries have been widely criticized as “debt traps,” which leave recipient countries saddled with repayments they cannot afford so that Beijing can gain security benefits in return. If Cambodia continues to lean toward China, it is likely to have a negative impact on the security environment in the region.

Japan has maintained good relations with Cambodia, in sharp contrast to the hard-line stance taken by Western countries. Japan’s role is to persistently tell Cambodia that respect for democracy based on free and fair elections serves the interests of the country.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 12, 2023)