Cambodia democracy dream fades as Hun Sen eyes election walkover

Strongman to coast to July 23 victory, signaling start of handover to eldest son.

In July 2013, tuk-tuk driver Yem Vantith was one more smiling face in a crowd of tens of thousands as he campaigned through the streets of Phnom Penh for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

“I was hoping that our country would become a real democratic country, that we would get full freedom, and our economy would improve,” said Vantith, 49, showing a photo of himself 10 years ago on the campaign trail, his white hat and tie and tuk-tuk all displaying the CNRP logo.

As Cambodia approaches a tightly controlled election for its lower house of parliament on Sunday, Vantith won’t be reprising such scenes. In 2013 the CNRP went on to capture almost half the vote, dispute the results and lead mass protests amid accusations of irregularities. Ten years on, the era of political competition initiated by the United Nations — the country’s democratic high watermark — has been irrevocably ended by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

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