Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cambodian officials have announced that the government will deploy more than 100,000 security forces and “village guards” at polling stations across the country during the upcoming general elections in July.
This has raised concerns among observers and human rights activists who fear that such a show of force will intimidate voters called to cast their ballot in an election that sees the ruling party as the only major political group running.
Last week, National Election Committee (NEC) secretary general Tep Nytha told the press that the security forces will deploy 84,583 members at various polling stations throughout the country to provide “security protection services” during the 29 July ballot.
The rollout represents a significant increase over that of the country’s June 2017 municipal elections, when 51,578 security personnel were deployed in groups, including more than 33,000 police, nearly 3,000 military police and more than 4,000 soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).
On Wednesday, the website of the General Commissariat of the National Police published a statement from its spokesman Kiet Chantharith saying that the government also plans to deploy more than 20,000 “village guards” to provide additional security during the election.
The guards are civilians, selected by local councils and loyal to the government. Activists note that the volunteers have not been trained to respect the election-related code of conducts and ethics and the principle of neutrality.
Under the country’s election laws, only one armed guard is required outside of each polling station, with two unarmed guards posted inside the facility
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that the Ministry is prepared to deal with any election-related “chaos” caused by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy or his supporters. Rainsy has called for an election boycott, a stance he reiterated in Japan last week.
Voting is set months after the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the main opposition party.
Given the absence of any significant rival to the Cambodia’s People Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which has ruled the country for the past 32 years, Rainsy called the next election “meaningless”, asking voters to stay away to undermine the legitimacy of the premier.
In recent months, Hun Sen has launched a repressive campaign against the CNRP, NGOs and the media.
Both the United States and the European Union have withdrawn their financial support for the elections in Cambodia, citing government actions limiting the country’s democracy, including the dissolution of the CNRP and the arrest for treason of the CNRP’s current president, Kem Sokha.
After the disbanding of the CNRP, Hun Sen repeatedly referred to its alleged plans to carry out a “colour” revolution.
Analysts believe that the prime minister and his government fear the possibility of unrest by supporters of the CNRP, which received more than 3 million votes in 2013 (almost half of the ballots cast), and did well in last year’s municipal elections.