The governments of Australia and France have congratulated Prime Minister Hun Sen on his election victory, becoming the first key Western donors to do so since the official election results were released on September 8.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also offered his congratulations to Hun Sen on the sidelines of the 23rd ASEAN Summit in Brunei last week, according to Foreign Ministry officials.
The international recognition comes as opposition leader Sam Rainsy continues an overseas tour seeking worldwide condemnation of a government that his party maintains was illegally formed.
Following stops at the European Parliament in Strasbourg and the European Union in Brussels, Rainsy was in Paris yesterday, where he was scheduled to meet French government officials, opposition public affairs head Mu Sochua said.
He is scheduled to continue to the United Nations in New York and the US Congress in Washington, DC.
“Any government which recognises this nonsense election which was not free and fair has to hold itself responsible to the world for [failing] to pursue democracy,” Sochua said yesterday.
“Mr Rainsy will continue his pursuit for justice for the people of Cambodia,” she said, adding that he would likely express his disappointment directly to French government officials.
Rainsy could not be reached for direct comment yesterday.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that the government’s legitimacy came from the election and the King, rather than foreign powers.
“Sure, the congratulations by other state leaders are giving more weight to [the government], but not legitimacy,” he said in an email.
Council of Ministers spokesman Ek Tha said that because the government was formed legally, it was “quite optimistic” that grant aid, investment and loans would continue flowing.
“Every country is supporting us now, from Asian to Western governments. This is a very strong message to the outside world: come and invest in Cambodia,” he said.
Letters from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault were released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday. Both leaders focus on political reconciliation between the two parties in their diplomatic missives.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party has been boycotting its 55 seats in parliament since the assembly was inaugurated on September 23 in protest of election irregularities.
A meeting between the two parties on September 16 produced a joint statement promising further negotiations and unspecified electoral reform, though little progress has been made since.
In a letter dated October 6, Abbott congratulates Hun Sen, hails Cambodia as an “important partner” and says “Australia has a long-standing commitment to the process of democratisation” in the Kingdom. “In this context, I welcome the peaceful conduct of the recent National Assembly elections in Cambodia and the Joint Statement of September 16,” he writes. “I look forward to a process of reconciliation of all parties that will sustain peace and security as the foundation of Cambodia’s future.”
The French letter follows a similar tack, with the government also referencing its role in the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and praising the development of Cambodian democracy.
“July’s … elections were marked by a strong mobilisation of voters. It is important that all Cambodian political actors now work together to ensure the proper functioning of institutions, which is essential to democracy and the country’s development,” the letter reads.
Australian ambassador Alison Burrows yesterday said that Australia had already called for a “transparent investigation of reported electoral irregularities” .
“The Australian Embassy hopes that dialogue will continue between the two parties, and that the door will be left open for [the] CNRP to take up seats in the National Assembly,” she said.
The French embassy did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Representatives of the UN in Cambodia could also not be reached.
The CNRP, however, rejected the idea that foreign donors could both recognise the government and continue to push for electoral investigation and reform, party lawmaker Mu Sochua said.
“You can’t go both ways.… You can’t say it was free and fair and therefore I congratulate the winners, but I still want to investigate why it was not free and fair,” Sochua said.
Carlyle Thayer, long-time Cambodia watcher and scholar at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said foreign powers could accept the legitimacy of the government “while holding very serious concerns about the electoral process”.
“[There is] no doubt they will continue to put pressure to see those flaws addressed before the next election,” he said, adding that other Western powers, such as the US and European Union, could soon follow suit.
“It’s traditional that you do issue a letter of congratulation.… It should be forthcoming [from the US]. If it doesn’t, it indicates American displeasure.
“I’m not going to say that [Australia and France] are going to create a stampede, but there is no further recourse in Cambodia legally. No matter how flawed they are that’s what the election results [will be].”
Other nations that have already extended their congratulations to the new government include China, Singapore, Japan, India and Brazil.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG