Cambodia elections will be 'joke', says opposition figure Sam Rainsy

Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy speaks during a press freedom event in Jakarta

By Kate Lamb

JAKARTA (Reuters) -Prominent Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy on Friday denounced elections in July as a farce after the sole opposition party was disqualified, and derided long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen's plan for his son to succeed him in power.

"Now even the facade of democracy has collapsed in Cambodia," Sam Rainsy told Reuters on the sidelines of an event on electoral and press freedom in Jakarta.

Sam Rainsy, the co-founder of another banned political party, has been living in self-exile and has been convicted of multiple offences in absentia, including in March last year when a court found him guilty of a plot to overthrow the government.

He said that Monday's decision by Cambodia's election commission to disqualify the Candlelight Party for what it said was failing to submit proper registration documents means the July polls would be a "fake and sham" election.

"It is a joke to refer to Cambodia as a democracy," Sam Rainsy said. "Cambodia is an autocracy."

Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party says the election will be free and fair, adding that more than 10 other parties had registered.

"The election will be the choice of the Cambodian people," government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters on Friday.

Candlelight is expected to appeal the decision, but if unsuccessful, this will be the second consecutive election where the main opposition party is prevented from running.

Candlelight is a reincarnation of the former popular opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was disbanded by the Supreme Court in 2017.

Sam Rainsy is a co-founder of the CNRP.

Critics say Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1998, has become an increasingly autocratic, with many prominent opposition figures in either jail or exile.

Sam Rainsy, who has been blocked from returning to Cambodia for years, also slammed what he described as the rise of "feudalistic and clan-istic" politics in Cambodia, given that Hun Sen has openly promoted his son, Hun Manet, as his political heir.

Hun Manet, a general in the Cambodian military, is running for the National Assembly for the first time in the July election, according to the ruling party's candidate list.

"For Hun Sen, power means impunity. He knows when he loses power he will lose impunity," Sam Rainsy said, "That is why he wants his son to replace him."

(Editing by Kay Johnson and Nick Macfie)