The World Today for July 21, 2023


Null and Void


Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s chances of winning reelection on July 23 are very good. It’s not a stretch, in fact, to say he is essentially running unopposed.

Hun Sen’s government banned the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017 after a supposed coup attempt, wrote the Council on Foreign Relations. In May, officials banned a second political organization, the Candlelight Party, that arose in its wake. CNRP leader Kem Sokha is in jail. Another opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, is in exile in France because he would likely face charges of treason if he stepped foot back in his home country. The government has shuttered every independent media outlet.

Hun Sen has threatened to arrest anyone who still associates with Rainsy, Radio Free Europe added. In the run-up to the election, he also attacked other potential critics. United Nations experts, for instance, recently called for the release of Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American human rights and pro-democracy activist who was arrested on treason charges that her defenders say are baseless, the Associated Press noted.

The 70-year-old prime minister has run Cambodia for almost 40 years. His son, Hun Manet, who is also running for parliament, is expected to succeed him once he exits the Southeast Asian country’s political stage.

Hun Manet’s background arguably makes him ideally suited to running Cambodia as it is now. In the New York Times, University of Texas communications professor Samuel Woolley wrote that the prime minister’s son has been running a cyber war room, where online trolls wage propaganda wars against his father’s enemies on social media and elsewhere.

In an opinion piece in the Diplomat, Rainsy said that many voters will express their dissatisfaction through canceling their ballot by drawing a large cross all across it. “Such a null and void vote will allow the voters to show their frustration at not being able to vote for the party of their choice,” argued Rainsy.

In response, Hun Sen is now asking Cambodian lawmakers to amend election laws to bar Cambodians from running for office in the future if they refuse to vote for one of the pro-government parties, reported Reuters. Rainsy told the news agency that such changes reflected how Cambodian democracy was a joke.

Hun Sen is not a modest man. He built a “marble and concrete monument to his rule,” explained the Economist, one modeled on Angkor Wat, the historical site that is the most spectacular remnant of the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire.

The prime minister’s actions certainly suggest his ego is fragile, however.

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