PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s election panel on Friday began a campaign to get voters to turn out for a July 29 general election, despite the concerns of some Western nations and the United Nations that the vote might not be free or fair after a key opposition party ban.
The campaign comes amid repeated calls from former opposition leader Sam Rainsy for Cambodians to boycott the election if his dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) is not allowed to take part.
The National Election Committee (NEC) held question-and-answer sessions with about 800 students in the southwestern province of Takeo, following a lecture about the vote.
“We want to come here to explain the truth and the true work of the NEC,” its spokesman, Dim Sovannarom, told Reuters.
He said the students’ questions mostly concerned whether the vote would be legitimate without the CNRP, which the Supreme Court dissolved last year, leaving fewer political parties in the fray.
The campaign will also feature television programmes to increase awareness about voting rights and the identity documents voters need to take to polling stations, he added.
Government critics say the election will almost certainly hand victory to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party and extend Hun Sen’s 33-year rule.
The CNRP was dissolved last November after its leaders were charged with treason for allegedly plotting to overthrow Hun Sen’s government with the help of the United States.
The CNRP and the United States have denied the accusations, which followed the arrest of current party leader Kem Sokha on treason charges over the alleged plot.
Kem Sokha has denied the charges, called them a ploy to help Hun Sen to be re-elected.
The election would not be “genuine” without the CNRP’s participation, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, said this week.
In a Facebook post on Friday, Hun Sen said urging people not to vote was illegal.
“The propaganda urging people not to vote violates the laws of the country,” he added.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez