At first sight, the upcoming commune and sangkat elections in Cambodia may resemble a democratic exercise, as 17 parties will be allowed to run, but one has only to scratch the surface to realize that the polls are prepared in a climate of intimidation against the opposition. The elections will yet again be an instrument for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to attempt to legitimize its increasingly dictatorial rule and maintain its hold on power in what has become de facto a one-party state.
This does not bode well for democracy in Cambodia as the country prepares for a legislative election next year. And there are many reasons why the international community should not be fooled by the electoral charade that will take place on June 5.
The main challenger to the CPP’s hegemony is the Candlelight Party, which has been allowed to present candidates for most of Cambodia’s 1,652 communes. But the National Election Committee (NEC), has removed more than 100 candidates from the party, leaving the CPP with no major competitors in some of the most important constituencies, including the capital, Phnom Penh.