While 20 different political parties will vie for votes at Cambodia’s national elections on July 29, the contest will be by any honest measure a one-horse race. Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), now in power for more than 33 consecutive years, eliminated the only serious competition ahead of the polls but will be hard-pressed to portray the elections as a legitimate expression of the popular will. The 19 other parties contesting the elections are seen by many as either proxies set up by the ruling party in an attempt to give the election a veneer of legitimacy, or too small and with too few followers to carry any seats.
Hun Sen received a big wake-up call at the last national elections in 2013 when the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won more than 44% of the popular vote, a tally that gave it 55 of 123 seats in the National Assembly.
The CNRP again won nearly 44% of the vote in local-level commune elections in June 2017, a clear signal the party had maintained popular momentum while in opposition.
However, Hun Sen’s move away from democracy and march towards a one-party, military-dominated state started last year with the arrest of the CNRP’s leader on dubious treason charges. Shortly thereafter the opposition party was dissolved by the Supreme Court and its members banned from politics.