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EU talks ‘election climate’

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EU ambassador George Edgar speaks at a press conference hosted at the European Union office in Phnom Penh last year. Heng Chivoan

EU talks ‘election climate’

The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Frederica Mogherini, yesterday released a letter outlining Europe’s continued concern with what it perceives as a deteriorating political situation in Cambodia.

The letter was a response to a “priority question” submitted by EU parliamentarian Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, who had argued that Europe should play a larger role in ensuring democratic processes are respected in the Kingdom.

“The EU has continued to raise concerns over the use of judicial processes for political purposes,” Mogherini wrote. “The EU will continue to urge the Cambodian government to resume a genuine political dialogue with the opposition.”

Her missive comes in the wake of controversial amendments to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties, which grant authorities the power to dissolve political parties if their leaders hold criminal convictions.

The amendments are widely viewed as an attempt to pressure the political opposition. In her letter to members of the European Parliament, Mogherini described the numerous occasions on which EU officials have called attention to the political tensions in Cambodia.

What’s more, the EU has provided about $10 million in funding to ensure the upcoming elections run smoothly, most of which went to the NEC for a new biometric voter register.

But Tremosa yesterday argued that the EU’s approach isn’t tough enough, sarcastically suggesting that Hun Sen must “be very scared” of the “army of preoccupied officials and functionaries” in Brussels.

“It is quite a frustrating reply by Ms Mogherini and the EU external action services,” he said via email.

EU Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar, however, said the European delegation in the Kingdom is regularly discussing the human rights situation directly with the ruling party.

“The EU Delegation is in regular contact with the Cambodian authorities at national and sub-national level,” he wrote in an email. “Issues related to human rights and democracy are a regular part of our dialogue with the authorities in Cambodia, as they are elsewhere in the world.”

Just yesterday, the EU delegation took aim at the revamped Political Party Law, releasing a statement calling on the government to foster a political environment in which opposition parties can function freely.

“The election climate is adversely affected by the passage in the National Assembly on 20 February of legislation that would potentially allow for arbitrary restrictions of political party activities or for their dissolution,” the statement reads. “Such actions . . . would call into question the legitimacy of the coming elections.”

Responding yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan defended the amendments, arguing that they don’t only apply to the opposition.

“This could also apply to the CPP,” Siphan said. “The European Union has been involved with Cambodia to strengthen the rule of law and fight against impunity, and we want clean leaders and a clean society.”

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