I nternational concern about the rule of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen mounted this week after a report by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) warned of the “systematic dismantling [of] democracy”.
‘The Death Knell for Democracy’ was released on Monday by regional lawmakers and parliamentarians at a press conference in Bangkok. It warned that civil society is being stripped bare and that opposition groups are being oppressed as part of a crackdown by Mr. Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
The report linked the situation to a general shift towards authoritarianism across Southeast Asia. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement criticising its “unfounded accusations”.
A former Khmer Rouge commander, Mr. Hun Sen has served as prime minister since 1985. Although he has brought stability to the formerly war-torn country, Mr. Hun Sen’s regime is widely regarded as autocratic. He has ruled with an iron fist and power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the CPP. The 64-year-old had previously stated that he wants to rule until he is 74, which would extend his tenure to 42 years.
The crackdown has gathered pace in recent months as the country prepares for local elections in June and a general election next year.
Many had hoped these votes would be a watershed moment for the main opposition party - the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) - which recorded 44% of the vote in national elections in 2013. But, in a highly contentious trial, CNRP President Kem Sokha was sentenced to five months in prison in September 2016 for failing to appear in court. Human rights groups and media outlets have been arbitrarily closed.
Mr. Hun Sen has also announced a constitutional amendment that will give the government the power to dissolve political parties if they are found to threaten “national unity”. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Right Watch’s Asia division, told TWW he is concerned it will be used against the opposition groups if they do well in June’s elections. There is a real prospect, he added, that next year’s national vote will be cancelled.