Embassies find fault with Cambodia’s lopsided election

However, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman offered ‘warm congratulations’ for Sunday’s vote.
By RFA Khmer
Embassies find fault with Cambodia’s lopsided election Election officials prepare to count ballots at a polling station in Phnom Penh on July 23, 2023.
Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

France, the United Kingdom and Australia on Monday criticized Cambodia’s one-sided parliamentary election, while China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman congratulated Cambodia for the “smoothly held” vote.

Preliminary results from Sunday’s election show the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party winning 120 of 125 seats in the National Assembly. 

But the election has been criticized as neither free nor fair because of the exclusion of the main opposition Candlelight Party, as well as for efforts to neutralize the political opposition through threats, arrests and other means. 

The estimated 84 percent turnout was “a clear demonstration of the vibrancy of the Kingdom’s democracy” and “a rejection of the calls for electoral boycotts and smear campaigns orchestrated by extremist opposition factions,” Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The voting process was witnessed by 422 international observers, representing 65 nationalities from 61 institutions, according to the ministry’s statement, which did not specify the institutions. 

Russian election observers stand at a polling station in Takhmau in Kandal province, Cambodia, on July 23, 2023. Credit: Heng Sinith/AP

The United States, the European Union, France and Japan said in March that they had no plans to send electoral observers or to provide assistance to Cambodia’s election committee, citing arrests of opposition activists and other actions intended to silence and intimidate opposition figures. 

A statement from the Australian Embassy on Monday condemned the pressure brought to bear on media outlets and civil society groups in recent months, as well as the National Election Committee’s decision in May to disqualify the Candlelight Party.

“Australia has been a partner for decades supporting Cambodia’s aspiration for peace, development, democracy and human rights,” the embassy statement said. “We express our concerns as a longstanding friend and renew our desire to work with Cambodia towards these aspirations.”

France’s statement cited the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, which ended decades of war in Cambodia and set the stage for UN-sponsored elections in 1993 and the writing of a new Constitution.

“We call for the release of the detained opposition members, and urge the Cambodian authorities to respect the fundamental rights necessary for the restoration of democracy,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement said.

Locals line up to vote at a polling station in Krang Thnong village outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on July 23, 2023. Credit: Heng Sinith/AP

Additionally, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights called on the international community to not recognize or legitimize Sunday’s “farcical elections.” Canada and the European Union also released statements on Monday that were critical of the election.

Official election results are expected to be announced between Aug. 9 and Sept. 4.

‘Strong momentum’ with China

At the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s regular news conference on Monday, spokeswoman Mao Ning wished Hun Sen and the CPP success in forming a new government. 

“In recent years, under the strategic guidance of Chinese and Cambodian leaders, China-Cambodia relations have enjoyed strong momentum,” she said. “Our two countries contribute to regional cooperation and international equity and justice.”

Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, told a Chinese television station last week that his eldest son, Hun Manet, could succeed him as prime minister within weeks. 

Hun Manet was listed as the CPP’s top candidate from Phnom Penh. In February, he traveled with his father to Beijing to attend meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

Hun Manet, eldest son of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, shows his inked finger after casting his ballot at a polling station in Phnom Penh, on July 23, 2023. Credit: AFP

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller declined to comment on Monday on the possibility of Hun Manet taking control of the government soon.

On Sunday, he said in a statement that the United States was troubled that the elections were “neither free nor fair.” 

The statement also said that the United States would pause some foreign assistance programs and has taken steps “to impose visa restrictions on individuals who undermined democracy” in Cambodia ahead of the elections. 

“We do not make those designations public,” Miller said at the State Department’s regular briefing on Monday. “We make public that we have designated officials, but we do not make the names public as a matter of policy.”

He added that $18 million in foreign aid programs will be put on hold this year, and restrictions will extend into future fiscal years. He did not detail the specific programs that were no longer being funded. 

Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Edited by Matt Reed.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.