WASHINGTON DC - As the July election approaches, the opposition faces a biased election body and a ruling party with far superior financial resources and access to the media, making the contest unfair, a leading rights advocate says.
Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told “Hello VOA” last week that the newly formed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party should be given a fair chance at the elections as it goes up against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But the ruling party continues to take unfair advantage of its assets, including the use of police, military and other state officials for campaigning, among other inequalities, he said. The environment has created a situation in which many people are discouraged to vote, he said.
This runs counter to calls from election monitors and the international community, who say the July polls risk illegitimacy if the opposition is not given a chance to properly contest the elections, Ou Virak said.
The US and others have called for reforms of the National Election Committee, which is criticized for bias towards the ruling party, and the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lives in exile to avoid incarceration on charges he says are politically motivated.
The CPP has other advantages, as well, Ou Virak said. It has the ability to raise large amounts of money, and it has support from nearly all broadcast media, which is either state-run or run by CPP supporters. At the same time, small or medium-sized businesses run by opposition supporters can feel the pressure too, he said.
“The ruling party is afraid of the opposition,” Ou Virak said. “If not, they would not have left the situation as it is now, while there is a lot of criticism.”
And while the system is flawed leading up to the election, there will likely be other irregularities come voting day, he said. This is when vote-buying and intimidation at polling sites occur, he said.
Still, he encouraged people to vote as they will, whether for the ruling party or the opposition.
Without reform, he said, it is difficult for new Cambodian leaders to emerge.
“With a free media and no intimidation, those who are creative, with good ideas and good public speaking skills have more chances to get involved in politics,” he said. “But in Cambodia at the moment, we don’t have such an environment.”