Human Rights Watch (HRW), long one of the government’s harshest critics, on Tuesday condemned the June 4 commune elections as “neither free nor fair” and called for urgent reforms to safeguard next year’s national election.
While echoing a view from other international observers, including the E.U. and the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, that Election Day itself was “peaceful,” the New York-based organization slammed Cambodia’s pre-election atmosphere, saying the vote “took place in a threatening environment hostile to free speech and genuine participation.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s threats of war if the ruling party lost, “CPP-controlled courts” that imprison the ruling party’s opponents, biased media and a “fundamentally flawed” electoral process undermined the vote, the statement added.
“Under no standards anywhere can an election be deemed fair or free when these kinds of problems exist,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams was quoted as saying.
It mirrored concerns from other observers about the run-up to polling day, but went far beyond the U.S. Embassy, which hailed the commune elections last week as “an important milestone in Cambodia’s continued democratic development.”
It was “clear that the upcoming 2018 national elections will again be tightly contested, making it more important than ever to carry out urgent fundamental reforms,” Mr. Adams was quoted as saying. “[I]f national elections take place next year under the same conditions they will not be considered free and fair.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he was aware of the statement, but countered that “the U.S. Embassy and E.U. evaluated that the election was free and fair, peaceful and went smoothly.”
“Let me ask…. Is Brad Adams crazy or is the world crazy? Is the U.S. Embassy crazy?”