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Cambodia’s Ruling, Opposition Parties Differ on Fairness of Election

Polls held over the weekend to elect Cambodia’s local leaders were likely tainted by the nation’s political environment in the lead up to the vote, an opposition official said Tuesday, but a ruling party official argued that the ballot has already been labeled free and fair.

Speaking during a call-in show with RFA’s Khmer Service, main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) spokesperson Yim Sovann said electoral improvements made by the National Election Committee (NEC) represented only one side of the coin for the June 4 commune elections.

“To judge whether it was a free and fair election, we must base our decision on two factors: the political environment prior to election and the carrying out of duties by the NEC,” said the spokesperson, whose CNRP earned around 46 percent of the popular vote, compared to 51 percent for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), based on preliminary results.

“The political environment prior to the election was the worst [part of the process], due to threats, intimidation and war rhetoric—including threats of sacrificing 100-200 leaders of the opposition party for the sake of the [greater population], as well as those from the national defense minister.”

The 14-day campaign period that began on May 20 was relatively calm, but took place against the backdrop of frequent warnings from Hun Sen that opposition victories on Sunday and in parliamentary polls in 2018 would bring chaos, instability and war to Cambodia; and from defense minister Tea Banh, who said that the army would “smash the teeth” of anyone protesting a CPP election win.

Yim Sovann said such warnings had “affected the feelings of the public” ahead of the election, adding that Hun Sen’s government had since 2015 harassed and threatened jail sentences for key CNRP leaders in a wider crackdown on civil society that he suggested also may have influenced the ballot.

Slightly more than 7 million Cambodians, or 89.52 percent of registered voters, turned out for commune council polls on Sunday, a record turnout in a test of public opinion ahead of 2018 general elections.

According to government-affiliated Fresh News, unofficial results showed the CPP won 22 provinces while the CNRP won two major cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as Kompong Cham province.

The CPP secured 1163 commune/sangkat chief posts, the CNRP won 482; and one commune leader post went to the Khmer National United Party, Fresh News said.

Final official results of the two-week contest for 1,646 commune council posts will not be announced until June 25, though preliminary results were expected from the NEC on Tuesday.

Yim Sovann said his party had a strong showing in the weekend polls because “the people have faith and trust in the CNRP, and they want change.”

“They want a new leader to reform the country, to ensure justice and real democracy, and eliminate corruption … and settle other problems at the local and national level.”

He acknowledged that the CNRP has “yet to receive the kind of support we would like from rural areas,” where the CPP continued to hold the majority of commune posts.

CPP showing

CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San, who also spoke to RFA during a call-in show, said the preliminary results of the popular vote spoke to the ruling party’s continued support in Cambodia.

“The CPP received 3.5 million votes, equivalent to more than 51 percent, while the CNRP received only 3 million votes, leaving a 500,000-vote difference,” he said.

“In comparison to the 2013 [general] election, the CPP received 300,000 additional votes, while the CNRP received only 90,000 additional votes … This shows that the level of support for the CPP has not weakened, although we lost a number of commune/sangkat chiefs.”

Sok Ey San rejected Yim Sovann’s suggestion that the election could not be seen as completely free and fair, calling the CNRP’s viewpoint “subjective and unacceptable.”

“The political environment in Cambodia before and during the election has already been assessed by both local and international observers as having gone smoothly and in accordance with democratic principles,” he said.

He also dismissed CNRP claims that the CPP had engaged in threats of war ahead of the election, saying his party had campaigned for “peace and development,” while the opposition promoted “discrimination between Cambodian classes and racism.”

“Such a platform is likely to stir up chaos or war—this is just an explanation to the citizens, not a threat,” he said.

Polls applauded

Meanwhile, congratulations continued to pour in from the international community in recognition of Cambodia’s successful commune elections, with observers urging all stakeholders to remain civil ahead of the NEC’s expected announcement of official results on June 25.

“We congratulate the people of Cambodia for exercising their right to engage in the political process and participate in democracy,” a spokesperson for the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh said in a statement Tuesday.

“Ahead of an announcement of the official outcomes later this month, Australia encourages all parties to continue to engage constructively. The Australian Embassy closely monitors political developments in Cambodia, and will continue to do so.”

Naoaki Kamoshida, counselor at the Embassy of Japan, issued a statement noting that the commune election had been “carried out smoothly and peacefully, in general.”

“The Embassy of Japan hopes the process after the voting will proceed smoothly in accordance with the relevant regulations and procedures.”

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said the June 4 polls were likely to help advance democracy in Cambodia, and called on the government to ensure that the country’s political environment remains free from fear and laws are enforced to maintain the integrity of election process.

“ANFREL acknowledges the success of election day operations, with voting found to be generally smooth, high voter turnout across the country and relatively few incidents to report,” the group said.

Reported by Sothearin Yeang, Vandeth Vann, and Thai Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia’s Ruling, Opposition Parties Claim Commune Election Victories

Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties both claimed victory on Monday in commune elections held over the weekend, with at least 20 days to go before an expected official count is tallied by the country’s top electoral body.

Slightly more than 7 million Cambodians, or 89.52 percent of registered voters, turned out for commune council polls on Sunday, a record turnout in a test of public opinion ahead of 2018 general elections.

Preliminary results released by political parties showed slightly more than 51 percent of the popular vote going to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and around 46 percent going to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), under Kem Sokha.

The CPP won 1163 of 1,646 commune chief posts up for grabs in the ballot, while the CNRP won 482, results showed. One post went to the Khmer National United Party—one of 10 other smaller parties that had competed in Sunday’s vote.

On Monday, Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 32 years, took to his Facebook page to rebuff claims that the CPP had “lost” the election, saying “these people cannot see the forest through the trees.”

“The [opposition] plan to control the majority of the commune councilors, who are electors of the Senate, in order to take over the Senate and the position of Head of State in the absence of the King, has already failed,” he wrote.

“They campaigned that in 2017, they would take over the communes and the Senate, and in 2018, the National Assembly [parliament]. In the future, the CPP remains in control of the majority of the Senate.”

Hun Sen also noted that, based on unofficial results, the CPP received more votes in the election than any other party and 300,000 more votes than it had in Cambodia’s 2013 general election, suggesting “support for the party continues to increase.”

“I hope other parties know how to calculate their own number of votes by comparing it to the number of seats at the National Assembly,” he said.

“This clearly confirms that the CPP will remain the majority party in the National Assembly and further lead the Royal Government. The election in 2018 will not differ from this election … I would like to thank all leaders and members of the CPP at all levels for helping bring about this new victory.”

Opposition claims

Also on Monday, Kem Sokha issued a statement thanking CNRP members for their support, and said that despite “threats and persecution” against his party and the citizens of Cambodia, as well as “unresolved irregularities,” this year’s commune election had resulted in significant gains for the opposition.

The 14-day campaign period that began on May 20 was relatively calm, but took place against the backdrop of frequent warnings from Hun Sen that opposition victories on Sunday and in parliamentary polls in 2018 would bring chaos, instability and war to Cambodia. Hun Sen’s government had since 2015 harassed and threatened jail sentences for key CNRP leaders in a wider crackdown on civil society.

Kem Sokha noted that the CNRP had won nearly 500 commune seats—a 12-fold increase from the 40 won by his former Human Rights Party (HRP) and ex-CNRP president Sam Rainsy’s former Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) in 2012—and that the opposition had taken “almost half of commune councilor posts nationwide.” The SRP formed the CNRP with the HRP ahead of Cambodia’s 2013 general elections.

“Based on [preliminary] results that we took seats from the ruling party in large number, it shows that the CNRP has received another big achievement in grabbing victory for leading the communes,” the statement said.

Kem Sokha said that past elections in Cambodia have shown that votes for opposition parties increase by 15 percent in general elections over those for commune elections, suggesting the CNRP is well positioned for next year’s ballot.

“Once again, I would like to call on our compatriots, as well CNRP activists, to continue the march with the CNRP towards grabbing victory and attaining our goal for positive change in the upcoming 2018 national election,” he said.

Final official results of the two-week contest for 1,646 commune council posts will not be announced until June 25, according to the National Election Commission (NEC), which said Monday that its preliminary results had been delayed until June 6 due to “technical issues.”

NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea said that the commission had so far received 45 complaints from political parties—most of which were lodged by the CPP and CNRP with regards to failure to comply with election procedures—and is investigating how to resolve them.

Election observations

Seven of the political parties who competed in the commune elections, but did not win a position, on Monday praised the weekend ballot as more free and fair than past votes, and pledged to take part in next year’s general elections.

Meanwhile, a statement Monday from the Situation Room group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—including the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), Licadho, and Adhoc—also found the election “at most polling stations” to have proceeded “smoothly, safely and peacefully.”

The group said, however, that it had registered a number of irregularities, including shortage of election materials, the presence of unauthorized authorities, and prohibition of observers.

Generally, the environment for ballot counting on Monday at the polling stations “went smoothly and in accordance with legal procedures,” the statement said.

The commune elections also drew praise from several international organizations and governments.

Deputy Secretary-General of Centrists Asia Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI) Yosril Ananta Baharuddin called the ballot “free, fair, secret and credible,” while the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which provided technical support to the NEC, said in a statement that the election had proceeded “peacefully.”

The European Union ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar told RFA’s Khmer Service that based on what he and his team observed, the voting process and ballot counting went “smoothly.”

The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh called on political parties and relevant election stakeholders to “accept the results of the election peacefully and in a spirit of reconciliation and cooperation,” adding that it will “continue to monitor events as the NEC tabulates and announces the results.”

Hun Sen had warned opposition parties against challenging the outcome of Sunday’s vote, saying the country’s courts could dissolve the parties for doing so. The CNRP nearly unseated Hun Sen in 2013 elections and claimed it only lost due to voter fraud.

CNRP ‘win’

U.S.-based political analyst Sophal Ear told RFA that the CNRP’s performance in the commune elections amounted to a win “against fear, intimidation, and electoral abuse,” adding that the CPP had “barely won the majority.”

“Hun Sen’s party went from nearly 62 percent of the vote down to 51 percent; this is an 11 percentage point decrease. In other countries, a performance like this would make the party re-think its strategy, maybe even rethink its choice of Prime Minister before disaster strikes,” he said.

“It’s good to retire when you’re on top instead of when you are forced to quit.”

Sophal Ear noted that in winning 46 percent of the popular vote, the CNRP saw a 15 percentage point increase over around 31 percent in total as the HRP and SRP during the 2012 commune election.

“If the CNRP thought its bar was to do better than 2012, then it clearly produced results,” he said.

The opposition party has a legitimate shot at unseating Hun Sen in 2018, Sophal Ear said, “if the CNRP is not dissolved before then.”

“[This election] shows that despite incredible arm-twisting, the people are not afraid—the people want change.”

Reported by Nareth Muong, Sothearin Yeang, Sel San, Vuthy Tha, Sokunthea Hong, Hour Hum, Chanthy Men and Vanndeth Van for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Ruling CPP Reported Winner as Commune Vote Draws Record Turnout

A Cambodian government-affiliated media outlet reported victory for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on Sunday as millions of Cambodians turned out for commune council polls, a record turnout in a test of public opinion ahead of 2018 general elections.

According to Fresh News, unofficial results showed the CPP won 22 provinces while the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won two major cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as in Kompong Cham province.

With more than 85 percent of the Southeast Asian country’s 7.86 million registered voters casting ballots in rural commune and urban sangkat council elections, the CPP secured 1163 commune/sangkat chief posts, the CNRP won 482; and one commune leader post went to the Khmer National United Party, Fresh News said.

Final official results of the two-week contest for 1,646 commune council posts will not be announced until June 25, but preliminary results will be released between Sunday and Tuesday, the National Election Commission (NEC) said.

“The election has been conducted properly without any interference, “ NEC chairman Sik Bunhok told a news conference in Phnom Penh.

“Based on the preliminary figures we received so far, there are total of 6,743,329 voters come to vote, which is equivalent to 85.74 percent. So this is the highest voter turnout,” he said, adding that no province had turnout below 80 percent. Turnout was 65.1 per cent for the previous communal election in 2012.

“Political parties conducted their election campaigns in a manner showing their political maturity, with more understanding and tolerance and respect for legal principles, regulations and procedures,” said Sik Bunhok.

Long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the main opposition CNRP and 10 smaller political parties competed in what has been seen as a bellwether for 2018 parliamentary elections.

“This morning, my wife and I have already fulfilled our obligations as citizens by going to cast ballots for electing commune/sangkat councilors,” Hun Sen posted to his official Facebook page Sunday.

“I appeal to our citizens to go to vote and participate in maintaining the order of this election for the success of our nation.”

CNRP President Kem Sokha also used Facebook to say “I’ve already fulfilled my obligation as a Khmer citizen by going to vote at 10 a.m. this morning.”

The 14-day campaign period that began on May 20 was relatively calm, but took place against the backdrop of frequent warnings from Hun Sen, who has ruled for nearly 32 years, that opposition victories on Sunday and in parliamentary polls in 2018 will bring chaos, instability and war to Cambodia. Hun Sen’s government had since 2015 harassed and threatened jail sentences for key CNRP leaders in a wider crackdown on civil society.

Hun Sen also warned opposition parties against challenging the outcome of Sunday’s vote, saying the country’s courts could dissolve the parties for doing so. The CNRP nearly unseated Hun Sen in 2013 elections and claimed it only lost due to voter fraud.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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Cambodia’s Ruling, Opposition Parties Stage Capital Rallies on Final Day of Campaign

Cambodia’s ruling and main opposition parties marked a final day of a two-week campaign period ahead of June 4 commune elections with huge rallies in the capital Phnom Penh Friday, with their respective leaders urging voters to back them in the polls, seen as a bellwether for a general ballot next year.

Prime Minister Hun Sen made what was only his second appearance on the campaign trail as his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) kicked off the day’s events at 60-Meter Road in the capital’s Chak Angre Leu commune, before leading supporters through the city with its chief on the back of a flatbed truck.

The Cambodian strongman, who has led his country for more than 30 years, again warned of chaos and instability if his party does not win the election, while addressing tens of thousands of supporters through loudspeakers along the route.

“Please vote for the CPP so as to maintain peace, progress and development,” he said.

“Voting for the CPP means voting for oneself. A wrong decision made in one day will result in misfortune for a whole lifetime.”

Hun Sen raised the specter of Lon Nol, who led a 1970 military coup against then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk and became the self-proclaimed president of the newly created Khmer Republic, ruling until he was deposed by the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in 1975.

“We already witnessed [such a mistake] when Lon Nol made a wrong decision on March 18, 1970 which, as a consequence, made our citizens victims ever since,” he said.

“Hence, we must grab what we already have in our hands.”

The prime minister also warned opposition parties against challenging the outcome of Sunday’s vote, saying the country’s courts could dissolve them for doing so. The main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) nearly unseated Hun Sen in 2013 elections and claimed it only lost due to voter fraud.

The CNRP staged its rally hours later, beginning at 3:00 p.m. at Phnom Penh’s Wat Pothiyaram pagoda, with party president Kem Sokha telling a smaller turnout of supporters that his candidates want “positive change” for the country.

“Our Khmer brothers and sisters used to enjoy renowned history during the Angkor era, gaining respect and admiration throughout the world,” he said.

“Why are we now being criticized by the international community? Is this not because of our human rights violations, destruction of our natural resources, and corruption,” he questioned.

“By voting for the CNRP, the reputation and value of our Khmer nation will flourish.”

None of the other 10 smaller political parties competing for 1,646 commune council seats across Cambodia staged rallies in the capital Friday, though many held gatherings in other provinces around the country.

Election improvements

The rallies came at the end of a 14-day campaign period that began on May 20 and has been relatively calm, compared to those ahead of previous elections, despite repeated threats from Hun Sen of civil war should the CPP lose.

On Friday, the Situation Room group of NGOs—including the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), Licadho, and Adhoc—issued a statement evaluating the electoral process in the lead up to the polls, saying technical arrangements made by the National Election Committee (NEC)—the country’s top electoral body—had “produced more positive outcomes” than in previous years.

“The political environment and security situation are free from any serious violence that may negatively affect the management of the election, [or the] political freedom of participating parties, associations, civil society organizations and voters,” the group said.

“We believe that there will be security and safety during Election Day and the announcement of election results.”

According to the Situation Room, the legal framework of the election was satisfactory, with only a law on political parties approved by the National Assembly in February—despite an opposition boycott of parliament in protest—containing “more negative points than before it was amended.”

The NEC, the group said, had “managed its work better than in the previous mandates,” including its recruitment and appointment of election officials, performance of duties, planning, training, use of law enforcement, and implementing of regulations and legal procedures.

Cambodia’s voter list is of “better quality and more accurate,” while the registration of political candidates was “positive” and inclusive of women and a variety of different parties.

The Situation Room applauded the election campaign for being held “positively and smoothly without any violence or disputes among parties leading to the obstruction of campaign activities,” though it noted restrictions by authorities with regard to the use of public compounds and freedom of speech.

Preparation for the election and vote counting methods are “better,” including more effective methods of ensuring that each voter can cast only one ballot, it said.

“Through general observations, Cambodia’s political environment and security did not experience any serious violence,” the statement said.

“But there were political messages of threats used by senior officials of the ruling authorities that may cause concerns and fears among the citizens.”

Campaign obstruction

While Cambodia’s campaign period was seen as one of the most free and fair of recent elections, opposition officials and supporters have reported several instances of obstruction.

One such case occurred Friday, when authorities in Kandal province’s Takhmao district, which abuts Phnom Penh municipality, prevented two CNRP vehicles carrying more than 20 supporters from traveling to the capital to join their party at Wat Pothiyaram, saying the NEC would not permit “cross-commune campaign rallies.”

Dos Nich, a member of the Takeo province CNRP Executive Commission, told RFA’s Khmer Service that Takhmao authorities stopped his vehicle citing a NEC statement released a day earlier, which barred supporters from Takeo, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Cham and Tbaung Khmum provinces from joining Friday’s rally in Phnom Penh due to the threat of “traffic congestion” and “affecting public order.”

Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) executive director Sam Kuntheamy told RFA such orders from the NEC and the Phnom Penh municipal government are issued purely “to gain political advantage.”

“The law [on the election of commune councilors] does not prohibit residents from various provinces from participating in a [campaign rally] in Phnom Penh,” he said.

“Such prohibitions are seen as a restriction on voters or the public from participating in a campaign rally. They should enjoy the full right to take part in political activities.”

Sam Kuntheamy said that if the NEC had banned mobile campaign rallies, party presidents should not have been allowed to campaign in various provinces.

Reported by Sothearin Yeang, Chandara Yang and Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Interview: 'When The Time Comes, We Will Know Who The Mastermind Is'

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey is the director of Cambodia’s Natural Resource Protection Group (NRPG) and also the eldest son of environmentalist Chut Wutty, who was gunned down while investigating illegal logging in the country’s southern Koh Kong province on April 26, 2012. While visiting the United States to mark the fifth anniversary of his father’s killing, he spoke with Vuthy Huot of Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service in Washington on June 1.

RFA: It is five years already since your father was shot and killed. The five-year anniversary of your father’s death fell on April 26. How is justice proceeding for your father?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: Up till now, both my family and I have not received real justice. Actually, my family and I have been considered as a scarecrow. We have not been invited for questioning over this case or provided with any update. The Koh Kong provincial court just said that my father’s case was concluded and that they already closed the case. This is because they placed the accusation on an individual named In Rattana as the one who shot and killed my father. Hence, the case of my father, who is a well-known figure, was concluded. It rested with the cases of In Rattana and Rann Boroth.

RFA: Who is Rann Boroth?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: As far as I know, Rann Boroth is a security guard for a company named Timber Green that is responsible for forest destruction in the area where my father was shot and killed…. at Veal Bey, Bak Klorng commune, Mondul Seima district, along the border of Koh Kong and Pursat province. And Rann Boroth has been acquitted. But I don’t know his whereabouts–either he was killed or whatever I don’t know. I believe that Rann Boroth may have the knowledge of this case.

As for the accused murderer named In Rattana, based on my investigation and those of various civil society organizations, it is said that he and my late father used to know each other. Nowadays, I still continue investigating the case on my own.

I also met in person with In Rattana’s girlfriend, whose name I prefer not to mention. She told me that In Rattana used to talk about my father. She said, her boyfriend In Rattana told her that in the past my father helped him land a job and assisted him in other affairs. I then asked her about In Rattana’s character. She told me, he is not such a cruel person who dared to use his weapon to kill my father. She said she believed that in this case there was a third person who first shot my father and then shot her boyfriend from behind so us to eliminate the evidence. I think In Rattana tried to rescue my father. Probably when he saw my father was shot, he might have come to rescue my father. But unfortunately, perhaps after that, In Rattana was shot from behind. What we really want to know is who was the mastermind who gave the order behind the scenes, as my father had been monitored and tracked for a long time.

RFA: So for you, In Rattana, whom the authorities accused of having shot and killed your father, was also shot by a third murderer?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: Yes this is my thought. And it is similar to the scenario put forward by various civil society organizations working on this case.

RFA: If there is still no justice, what will you do? Will you still commit to seeking justice for your father? Do you hope that the court can help or will you take any other measures?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: For me, I want to tell those who killed my father that I am still seeking justice for him. I won’t stop. As for a CIA officer whom I met here in the U.S., he told me that the person who shot and killed my father can escape one time, but cannot hide this for the rest of his life. So I think that justice for my father still exists. Even though we haven’t yet received it for now, when the time comes, we will know who the mastermind is. The most important thing is that we want to reveal the mastermind. I also believe that the person who gave the order is not a normal rank and file official. Such individual could be a senior official. As far as I know, he could be a commander. But I prefer not to mention his name.

RFA: So you already have the suspected mastermind in your mind?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: Yes, I already have it… And the person who killed my father will be brought to justice soon.

RFA: Besides seeking justice for your father, do you have any other goals in protecting your father’s legacy?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: Besides seeking justice for him, I am of the opinion that I will resume his work. But so far I have been busy studying so I don’t have enough time to resume this work. But I will finish my studies soon and I will continue to help the Prey Lang community. I cannot let traders, business tycoons or government officials continue to destroy our forest anymore.

RFA: I know you have three siblings, including two sisters. Your youngest sister was just 2 years old at the time your father was shot dead. How is she now?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: As for my sisters, I let them study and stay calm despite the fact that we lost our father. They still have me and my mother. I will strive to ensure that they complete their studies.

RFA: Has your youngest sister ever asked for her father?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: I still remember the time when I took my father’s car from Koh Kong province [after he was killed]. My father always purchased ice cream for my two sisters [whenever he returned home from his work]. On that morning, my sister woke up and she saw his car parked in front of our house. She then asked me about our father’s whereabouts and for the ice cream… I felt so upset. I couldn’t find words to reply to her.

RFA: Now as she is about eight years old, how do you explain to her as she does not have a father to call like other children?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: She always likes me, her brother. She’s always gone to see and stay close to our father’s statue. I told her to keep studying harder so that we can find better employment in future. I’ve always played the documentary “I am Chut Wutty” for her to watch. I feel she felt much nostalgia after she watched it…. I feel so sorry and pained for her.

RFA: How is your mother? Is she the breadwinner for the family or do you try to study and work at the same time to support the family?

Chhoeuy Odomraksmey: I study while at the same time I also try to work along with my aunt. During my free time, I also try to do my social work. My mom in the past used to sell pork and beef at Prek Eng market. But since my father was killed, she became sick. I told her to stop selling at that market. She then moved to sell groceries at home. So I also help her. Life goes on, but it is not same as when our father was still alive.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo.

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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Doubles Down in Facebook ‘War’ Threat

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has yet again warned of war and chaos should his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lose commune elections on Sunday, prompting the country’s opposition leader to slam him for trying to upend the democratic process.

In a message posted to his Facebook account late on Wednesday, Hun Sen questioned whether Cambodians want to “try a taste of war and family separation,” after sharing an anecdote about his experience during the murderous Khmer Rouge regime that ruled the country from 1975 to 1979.

The prime minister said his memory had been stirred by a photo of his son Hun Manet in the arms of the boy’s cousin taken 38 years ago, after the Khmer Rouge were ousted by a Vietnamese-led invasion, and was saddened to think of how the country might again face a devastating conflict after years of healing.

“This photo gave me a chance of reflection to compare progress made by the people and the nation from the most difficult time in the aftermath of the collapse of the [Khmer Rouge leader] Pol Pot regime and this present moment,” he said.

“For me, it meant a million tear drops for a woman who was separated from her husband, and once I returned to meet my wife and son, my sad son referred to me as ‘uncle.’ As one can see [from the photo], he preferred his cousin carry and feed him instead of letting me come near him.”

Since then, Hun Manet and millions of other Cambodian children have “blossomed … under the leadership of the CPP,” Hun Sen said, questioning why anyone might entertain the idea of putting a different government in power.

“Does anyone want to try a taste of war and family separation anymore—this is the theme for the upcoming election, a choice between war and peace,” he said.

“I reaffirm that so long as there are any insults, incitements or ‘coloring’ [of the ruling party], the source of war and chaos in Cambodia will always exist.”

Cambodia’s 2015 election law forbids officials and civil servants from making public threats, but a spokesman for the National Election Committee (NEC) claimed to be unaware of Hun Sen’s statement and said it was unclear if the electoral body would investigate.

“Please wait until I report the matter to NEC and see if it will make any decision,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “As for now, I don’t know.”

Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for nearly 32 years under the CPP, has warned repeatedly that opposition victories in local elections on June 4 and in parliamentary polls in 2018 will bring war to the country.

Hang Puthea had previously said the NEC would investigate the prime minister’s threats if a complaint is filed by a political party.

Hun Sen’s Facebook post came the same day that the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)—a group of former and serving Southeast Asian lawmakers—issued a statement expressing “concerns about the repeated threats of violence made by high-ranking members of the ruling party” and calling for an end to “intimidation.”

Response to threat

Speaking to RFA on Thursday, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) spokesperson Yim Sovann said he had no interest in responding to Hun Sen’s warning, adding that he would leave the issue for the country’s voters to address on June 4.

But CNRP President Kem Sokha told supporters at a campaign rally in Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district on Thursday that those who warn of war, should they lose a ballot, are seek to undermine the electoral process.

“Power [should] change through ballots, not bullets and war,” he said. “Those who consider war are non-democrats.”

Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) executive director Sam Kuntheamy told RFA that the election law does not stipulate a punishment for individuals who issue campaign threats, and while the most likely course of action would be to deliver a warning or summon the offender for clarification, neither is likely to happen in this case.

“The NEC probably dares not do that—neither issuing any notification to nor summoning the person concerned for clarification,” he said.

Ministry warning

Also on Thursday, Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior announced that it plans to “take action” against any nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) espousing views deemed biased towards the opposition.

Spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said a working group has been monitoring the activities of “a number of organizations” that had failed to uphold their statutes of association regarding neutrality filed with the ministry, adding that they may face prosecution in accordance with the law.

“We request all organizations to strictly uphold their roles as NGOs, as development partners of the government and the nation, in all areas or institutions, either for progress of democracy or human rights,” he said.

“[They] should not be serving the political platform of the opposition party or upholding any political parties.”

Khieu Sopheak specifically mentioned a recent statement by the Situation Room group of NGOs—including the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), Licadho, and Adhoc—criticizing a warning from defense minister Tea Banh that the army will “smash the teeth” of anyone protesting a CPP election win.

Any group found to be violating the principles of neutrality as stipulated in Article 24 of the Law on Associations and NGOs may be subject to legal action, he said, including a ministry shutdown of the organization under the same law’s Article 30.

NGOs respond

NGOs countered Thursday by saying they are working to empower Cambodia’s citizens, not in support of any political party.

“Our past statements are part of our efforts at urging officials to serve the interests of the citizens and to remain independent,” said Tim Malay, head of the Cambodian Youth Network—a member group of the Situation Room.
ADHOC spokesperson Sam Chankea told RFA he was not surprised by the Ministry of Interior’s warning.

“The ministry has issued several reminders to organizations and associations that dare to criticize or express their opinions—this is a normal practice by Cambodia’s government,” he said.

“In the 26 years since ADHOC was founded, the organization has never shown bias toward any political party … We simply monitor violations of political and human rights, and we have never provided support or assistance to any party.”

Political observers expect the CNRP—one of 12 political parties competing for 1,646 commune council seats—to give the CPP a run for its money in this weekend’s commune elections, which many see as a bellwether for general elections scheduled for 2018.

Reported by Savi Khorn and Sel San for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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