PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday said the 2018 national election result does not require international recognition to be valid -- the latest sign of his determination to hold on to power after almost 33 years in office.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has gone after critics including members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in recent months in what opponents say is a bid to strengthen its grip on power ahead of the vote.
A court will rule on Nov. 16 whether to dissolve the CNRP after the government filed a lawsuit demanding its dissolution.
Hun Sen’s critics accuse him of trying to turn the country into a one-party state.
Acrimony between the two parties has risen steadily, with Hun Sen threatening war should his party lose the 2018 poll.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha was charged with treason in September after being accused by the government of plotting to overthrow its leaders with the backing of the United States.
Rights group say Kem Sokha was jailed on trumped-up charges. Half of Cambodia’s opposition MPs have fled the country.
Some rights groups have urged the EU and Japan to consider halting their funding for Cambodia’s election panel if the government succeeds in dissolving the opposition.
Speaking at a youth event in the capital Phnom Penh, Hun Sen said the election will he held on July 29 regardless of whether there is foreign funding or not.
“The National Election Committee (NEC) will announce the final results ... there will be no need for anybody to recognise it or not, we don’t need it,” he said.
His remarks come after voter registration closed on Thursday with two thirds of voters still unregistered.
Som Sorida, deputy secretary-general at the NEC, said 536,230 eligible voters had registered out of a target of 1.6 million.
“Many of the 1.6 million people are migrant workers abroad,” Som Sorida told Reuters. “We don’t expect that they would come to register to vote.”
The NEC said a total 8.3 million people in Cambodia had signed up to vote overall.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that the low turnout was “partly due to intimidation and political tension.”
Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Michael Perry