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Cambodia warns against ‘clean finger’ election boycott

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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) weaves a traditional Khmer “krama” during an event to set a record for the world’s longest scarf with the length of 1,000 meters as his son Hun Many (R) looks on in Phnom Penh on June 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / TANG CHHIN Sothy

Cambodia’s ruling party on Friday threatened legal action against opposition figures leading a “clean finger campaign” that is encouraging voters to boycott a national election in July.

The opposition has slammed the poll as a sham after their party was dissolved in a court ruling last year, a move that all but guarantees Prime Minister Hun Sen will extend his 33-year hold on power.

In recent weeks opposition figures — mostly those who fled the country in the wake of the crackdown — have called on voters to skip the poll in protest.

They have posted photos on social media holding up a “clean finger” — a symbol of a boycott in Cambodia, where voters must dip their fingers in ink after casting their ballot.

“We are calling on them not to dirty their hands in this fake election,” Sam Rainsy, a former opposition leader who is in exile in France, said in a tweet earlier this week.

But Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party warned Friday that calling for a boycott of the July 29 poll was akin to “incitement to obstruct an election” and could be met with criminal charges.

“Courts can take legal actions… According to election law, people who obstruct an election can be fined and face criminal charges,” party spokesman Sok Eysan told AFP.

His comments came as UN rights experts called on Cambodian authorities to respect the right to boycott, noting that voting is not compulsory.

“A call for boycott of an election neither coerces nor intimidates, nor does it, of itself, affect public order. Instead, it leaves voters free to decide whether to participate or not,” the UN rights experts said in a statement.

They also raised concerns about a clampdown on the press ahead of the election, including vague new rules from election authorities that prohibit reports which could deter people from voting.

Western democracies pulled support for the July vote after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved in November, saying the election was no longer legitimate.

But Chinese backing for the poll remains, highlighting unwavering support from Beijing that has relieved Hun Sen of his former reliance on Western donors.

Analysts say that China’s political and financial support has emboldened Hun Sen’s unprecedented crackdown on critics in politics, the media and civil society — an assault spurred by major gains by the opposition in 2013 and 2017 polls.


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