Cambodia says 50,000 observers to monitor July election

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) on Wednesday said 50,000 observers, including some from China, Myanmar and Singapore, will monitor a general election next month, which is widely expected to be a landslide victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen after the main opposition party was dissolved last year.

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Cambodia has invited international observers to monitor the July vote, but local election watchdogs, including the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) urged international observers to think twice before accepting.

Korn Savang, a monitoring coordinator at COMFREL, criticized the three countries for not having enough experience.

“China isn’t a democracy and doesn’t have experience with elections, Singapore doesn’t either and Myanmar is just beginning its democracy so the critical issue is their evaluation, on what level we can trust it,” Korn told Reuters.

Hun Sen and his allies have waged a campaign against critics, including members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in what opponents say is a bid to prolong his leadership after 33 years in office.

The CNRP was dissolved and its lawmakers banned from politics in November after the Supreme Court ruled that it had tried to overthrow the government - something the CNRP has denied.

The NEC said the participation of foreign observers showed that the election was open and comprehensive.

“This shows that the election is open, the participation is comprehensive and that there is a lot of trust in the election,” NEC’s spokesman Hang Puthea told Reuters on Wednesday.

The NEC said that it was reviewing applications from an additional 800 foreign observers from non governmental organizations seeking to monitor the July 29 election.

Rhona Smith, a U.N. human rights expert on Cambodia, has said that the upcoming election can’t be genuine if the CNRP is barred from taking part.

(This version of the story corrects headline and lead to say observers)

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Richard Pullin