Liberal, pluralistic, democratic, peaceful, free, fair, and non-violent. These were the words used by a Cambodian state-affiliated press office to describe how the government will conduct the general election scheduled to take place on July 29, 2018. Campaigning starts on July 7. A video produced by the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Office of the Council of Ministers even boasted that the upcoming election “could be considered one of the best Election (sic) in Cambodia’s history.” The video was likely intended to address the criticism from local and global civil society groups with respect to the deteriorating state of democracy in Cambodia. The Cambodian People’s Party has been in power for 33 years under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is considered to be Southeast Asia’s longest-serving head of state.
The video suggests that, contrary to what critics have been saying in international forums, the election is open to all candidates. It even includes a speech by Hun Sen directing officials to assist all registered political parties during the campaign period.
But the key word there is “registered.” Indeed, it is true that registered parties are free to participate in the elections. But the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017, after Hun Sen accused it of conspiring with foreign countries to topple his government.