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Hun Sen's Cambodia

Cambodia election boycott calls are 'treason,' ruling party says

Spokesman vows 'fake news' crackdown as Hun Sen looks to cement grip

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen campaigns in Phnom Penh on July 7. His Cambodian People's Party is all but assured of victory in the July 29 election, after the only credible opposition party was dissolved last year.   © AP

TOKYO -- The spokesman for Cambodia's ruling party said calling for a boycott of the country's July 29 general election amounts to "an act of treason," while vowing to clamp down on "fake news." 

In an interview during a visit to Tokyo, Cambodian People's Party spokesman Suos Yara said "confidence in our party is very high," with 5.3 million supporters registered to vote, or more than 65% of the total. "We will definitely win," Yara said.

The CPP is widely expected to keep its majority in the 123-seat lower house, cementing Prime Minister Hun Sen's grip on power. This is partly because the Supreme Court disbanded the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had made big gains in the 2013 election, in November.

Sam Rainsy, the CNRP's former chief, has urged his supporters not to vote in the upcoming poll, calling it a "sham." 

"The party is dissolved, and you are calling for people to boycott the election. Who are they?" Yara said. "They are just making fake news."

He said the government would "keep the openness of the election," brushing off concerns about voter suppression and a crackdown on the media. He pointed to widespread use of Facebook and other social networks as evidence of free speech.

"We only prohibit one [thing]," he said. "You cannot [spread] fake news." Those who violate the rules, he added, "have to be responsible."

Suos Yara, spokesman for the Cambodian People's Party, speaks to the Nikkei Asian Review on July 11. (Photo by Wataru Suzuki)

The decision to dissolve the CNRP drew criticism from the U.S., which suspended some aid to Cambodia's government and military, and imposed sanctions on the commander of Hun Sen's security detail. Other countries, including Japan, have called for a fair election.

Yara said a "transparent, free and fair election" is important but stressed the "legitimacy [of the election] lies on our people, not on a foreign power."

Some say deeper political and economic ties with China have made Cambodia more confident about resisting international pressure. At times, this has led to disharmony within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Cambodia appeared to side with China on the South China Sea territorial disputes, for example.

On this subject, Yara said, "Some international problems are not ASEAN problems, they are bilateral problems."

China is a "good friend" of Cambodia, he said, and both countries "respect each other's sovereignty."

"We did not say no to Japan, the U.S. or Europe. You want to come to the Cambodian market? It's free and open."

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