China on Wednesday congratulated Cambodia’s ruling party on its “victory” in recently-held national elections even though official poll results have not been announced yet amid opposition claims of widespread ballot irregularities.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Phnom Penh for an official visit, said Beijing recognizes the preliminary results announced by Cambodia’s National Election Committee, which oversees the country’s polls, crowning Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) the winner.
Wang “expressed his congratulations to [his Cambodian counterpart] Hor Namhong on the victory of the Cambodian People's Party” and “hoped that Cambodian political parties would solve remaining problems related to the poll peacefully,” China’s state news agency Xinhua reported.
He told a press conference after a meeting with Hor Namhong and Hun Sen that Beijing would back Phnom Penh in warding off any post-election foreign interference.
“China will firmly support Cambodia to prevent foreign disturbance,” he said.
Wang did not elaborate on what threats Cambodia faced from abroad or reveal details of his talks with Cambodian officials. Reporters were not permitted to ask him any questions at the press conference.
He said that the ruling CPP would “continue to enjoy a healthy relationship with China.”
Wang arrived in Phnom Penh on Tuesday night for a visit aimed at further enhancing bilateral ties and cooperation between the two countries, according to Xinhua.
‘We are different’
His comments drew immediate rebuke from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which criticized Beijing for throwing its support behind the CPP before the NEC had announced its official results or moved to resolve the dispute over election irregularities.
Preliminary results by the NEC support the CPP claim it had won 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, or parliament, against 55 for CNRP.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy maintains that his party won the election with at least 63 seats and says that the CPP and NEC colluded to deny about one million votes for the CNRP.
CNRP senior official Son Chhay told RFA’s Khmer Service that as a communist country lacking free elections, China was supporting the CPP victory only for “personal benefit” and did not respect the will of the Cambodian voters.
“Communists don’t need elections—they don’t give any voice to voters,” he said.
“Cambodia is a democratic country. We are different.”
Political analyst Sok Touch said the Cambodian government can’t align with one side—China—and ignore other points of view.
He said Beijing sought to please Phnom Penh in order to gain its support for Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea against Cambodia’s Southeast Asian neighbors.
“We can’t take sides with China and abandon America,” he said.
The U.S. and EU have both called for Cambodia to resolve concerns over election irregularities internally, but the NEC has rejected the CNRP’s bid to establish an independent commission to investigate claims of voter fraud.
Cambodian government spokesman Prak Sokhon told RFA that Wang Yi and Hun Sen had exchanged political views over recent developments in their two countries, but provided no further details other than saying that Beijing supported a move to resolve the election dispute.
“Prime Minister [Hun Sen] shared information about the recent political situation [in Cambodia], but the Chinese envoy refrained from advising Cambodia on how to address its internal conflict,” he said.
Prayer for peace
Tensions remain high in Phnom Penh amid the election dispute with CNRP President Sam Rainsy warning of mass protests against the NEC’s handling of the poll results and the government responding with an increased military presence in the capital.
Around 200 people, including monks, gathered in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to hold a prayer session for peace and justice, asking the government to remain patient and to use nonviolent means in resolving the election row. Another public prayer session was held in Siem Reap.
Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, said the public had held the gathering because they feel unsafe and voiceless.
“[The military buildup] is being used to intimidate the people, so we are praying for peace and justice,” he said.
A woman who took part in the prayer session said she had prayed for Cambodia to avoid a civil war.
“I ask for Buddha’s help,” she said. “We don’t want war and fighting—we are very afraid.”
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha on Wednesday said talks with the CPP aimed at resolving the election dispute would not proceed until a court in Kampot province released seven opposition activists arrested for alleged election related offenses.
“Before any resolution can be reached to establish the government and the National Assembly, the activists must be released,” he said, calling their arrests “unlawful.”
Kampot Chief Prosecutor Chhum Samban said the seven cases are being reviewed by an investigating judge.
“I don’t know when we will try those cases as they are still in the investigation stage,” he said.
Separately, the CNRP released a statement Wednesday calling on supporters to participate in a rally scheduled for Aug. 26 at which Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha will be present.
The statement did not elaborate on the purpose of the gathering.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.