Cam­bo­dian crack­down ‘cast­ing dark shadow ahead of polls’

The Star Malaysia - - World -

BANGKOK: An on­go­ing crack­down against op­po­si­tion politi­cians and ac­tivists in Cambodia has cast a “dark shadow” ahead of up­com­ing elec­tions and is part of a wider au­thor­i­tar­ian “dis­ease” in­fect­ing the re­gion, South­east Asian politi­cians warned.

The damning as­sess­ment comes as Cambodia plans to hold na­tion­wide polls next year in what some have warned could be the coun­try’s last chance of see­ing gen­uine democ­racy take root.

Cambodia has been ruled by strong­man premier Hun Sen for more than three decades. His reign has brought sta­bil­ity and growth but has been crit­i­cised as cor­rupt and au­to­cratic.

The coun­try’s once frac­tured op­po­si­tion took many by sur­prise in 2013 when it united to win 55 seats in par­lia­ment, an un­prece­dented move that rat­tled Hun Sen, a man un­used to los­ing at the bal­lot box.

At a press con­fer­ence in Bangkok on Mon­day, re­gional law­mak­ers said Hun Sen’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has been hit­ting back ahead of the 2018 polls with mea­sures to cripple the op­po­si­tion’s abil­ity to con­test his party.

Asean Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans for Hu­man Rights, a group made up of for­mer and serv­ing South­east Asian law­mak­ers, said Hun Sen has “cre­ated a cli­mate of fear, which casts a dark shadow over all of Cam­bo­dian so­ci­ety” adding that there was “an on­go­ing as­sault on par­lia­men­tary democ­racy”.

Re­cent ex­am­ples they cited in­cluded mul­ti­ple op­po­si­tion par­lia­men­tar­i­ans ei­ther jailed or fac­ing court pro­ceed­ings; re­cent leg­is­la­tion mak­ing it eas­ier to dis­solve op­po­si­tion par­ties; phys­i­cal at­tacks on law­mak­ers by mem­bers of the se­cu­rity forces and the on­go­ing de­ten­tion of rights work­ers.

“Cam­bo­di­ans are fac­ing grave threats to their frag­ile demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions,” Filipino law­maker To­m­a­sito Vil­larin told re­porters in Bangkok, adding that court cases or the threat of le­gal ac­tion was used “like a Damo­cles sword” to sti­fle op­po­nents.

For­mer Thai law­maker Kraisak Choonhaven said his own coun­try had seen a sim­i­lar de­scent into au­toc­racy since the mil­i­tary’s 2014 coup. — AFP

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