Later this month, Cambodia will hold national elections for parliament. However, compared to some previous periods like the early 2010s when there were credible opposition parties—albeit with the deck stacked against them—and opposition parties won considerable numbers of seats in parliament, this time around the election looks more like what you would see in Saddam’s Iraq. The government has banned the main opposition party, the Candlelight Party—an earlier iteration of which had actually seriously threatened the government’s hold on parliament in prior elections.
While there are a few obscure opposition parties contesting the election, they are just there for show. Major opposition leaders like Kem Sokha are in jail or house arrest, as are other members of the leading opposition party, along with prominent dissidents, activists, and others who have challenged the government and Prime Minister Hun Sen. There has simultaneously been an intensive crackdown on Cambodia’s once quite vibrant media and civil society, which had been fairly open even in an authoritarian environment. (The other leading opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, has not returned to the country because he faces life in prison on trumped-up charges if he returns.)