CAMBODIA: The Cambodian Senate Elections: A Manifestation of the Government’s Human Rights Neglect

On February 25, 2018, the King, 11,572 commune councilors and 123 National Assembly members are set to elect the 62 members of the Cambodian senate. With the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on 16th November 2017, the seats of CNRP commune councilors have been reallocated for members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). Similarly, the National Assembly seats previously occupied by the CNRP were redistributed among members of political parties which lost the 2013 National Assembly Elections. As a consequence, the Senate Elections will be held without any strong opposition party contesting, thus ensuring total control of the Senate by the ruling CPP.

The upcoming Senate elections is not a legitimate political process. It does not go in accordance to the principles of liberal democracy enshrined in Article 1 of the Cambodian Constitution. The 55 members of the National Assembly and the 5,007 commune councilors which were appointed to replace the members of the dissolved CNRP hold no authority to elect members of the Senate since their mandate does not emanate from a genuine electoral process.

As organizations advocating human rights and democracy, we lament for the advent of a totalitarianism in Cambodia, and express our highest condemnation on the adulteration of democratic processes. We are deeply concerned with the condition of Cambodians who are stripped of their fundamental rights to express, associate, and participate in genuine political processes.

In a matter of 8 months after the June 2017 Commune and Sangkat Elections, the CPP has effectively destroyed means for the reestablishment of democracy and human rights in the country. The results of the election reflect the clamor of the people for a government which represents their ideals, struggles, freedoms and rights. Despite an environment of fear and intimidation which has been brewing in the country for decades now, 7.1 million Cambodians (or 90.37% of the registered voters) exercised their rights, 43.83% of which voted in favor of CNRP.

And yet, the ruling party ignored this clamor and instead tightened its grip on power, putting its interest ahead of the people’s interest by diluting all voices of free expression with the harassment of CSOs and media, as well as dissent with the dissolution of the CNRP. All commune and sangkat council positions previously occupied by CNRP were given to members of CPP and its allies. These councils are mandated to elect Senators on behalf of the people they represent. CPP’s full control on all councils ensures only CPP representatives will occupy all 62 senate seats.

The Cambodian Government, led by CPP, disregarded its obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Senate Elections, in no way is a competitive process and reflective of people’s political will with the absence of the universal opportunity for all parties and individuals to participate (Article 25) and more blatantly, the exclusion of opposition and dissenting actors from the process (Article 2 and 5). It impinged on the right to be elected, by imposing unreasonable restriction on party membership (CCPR General Comment 25, para. 10) and criminal convictions (CCPR General Comment 25, para. 14). Most gravely, the ruling party obliterated the people’s rights to participate by eliminating CNRP commune councilors who were entrusted by the people to elect the Senators (Article 2 and 25).

The Senate Elections is a manifestation the Cambodian authorities’ continuing neglect of the individual rights of its people, and thus cannot be considered a genuine, democratic process. With the persistence of the very problematic political conditions in the country, the ruling party has failed on its fundamental obligations to protect individual rights and freedoms, uphold electoral process integrity, as well as its fundamental obligations to give effect to rights and rule of law – all of which are essential elements for a truly genuine election which reflects the people’s will.

We express our deepest concerns that this condition will persist and greatly affect the conduct of the National Assembly Elections to be held on July 2018. The absence of checks and balances in the Government, combined with the continuing harassment of civil society and media, and the arbitrary arrests and incarceration of human rights defenders and opposition members, paint a grim picture of the democracy situation in Cambodia. We call on the international community to heed the calls of the civil society, both within and outside Cambodia for support in addressing this crisis.

We call on the CPP to reconsider actions which will further deteriorate the human rights condition in the country, recognize the people’s will, and restore a favor a social environment which promotes the growth of electoral democracy in the Cambodia which all stakeholders can benefit and enjoy.

This statement is endorsed by the following organizations:

1. Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
2. Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
3. Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV)
4. Environment, Peace, Security and Social Justice center (SCOPE Nepal)
5. Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA)
6. Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA)
7. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
8. Komite Independen Pemantau Pemilu (KIPP)
9. National Election Observation Committee (NEOC)
10. Odhikar
11. People’s Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL)
12. Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA)

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-JST-001-2018
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Freedom of expression, Legislation, Rule of law,