After three days of silence from Cambodia’s biggest governance donors over the firing of all 27 opposition lawmakers, the US late Saturday night became the first to publicly comment on what had transpired, condemning the move and calling for the legislators’ reinstatement.
“The United States is deeply concerned by reports that the Permanent Committee of the Cambodian National Assembly, made up entirely of members of the ruling party, has expelled opposition lawmakers from the National Assembly,” reads the statement by US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
On Wednesday, the 12-member committee voted to strip the posts of 29 parliamentarians from the Sam Rainsy Party, Human Rights Party and now-defunct Norodom Ranariddh Party, claiming they had broken the law by joining new parties. All 29 lawmakers had been absorbed into other parties earlier this year following mergers of both the royalist and opposition parties.
Legal analysts have denounced the firings, calling them a breech of the “spirit” of the law, while the opposition party has said the move effectively nullifies the National Assembly – which requires at least 120 members as per the constitution.
In an email sent yesterday, UN special rapporteur Surya Subedi said he too was concerned by the development.
“The move coming so close to the elections to the National Assembly is not helpful ... There should be a level playing field for all political parties to compete in the elections. Cambodian democracy would be weaker without an effective opposition in the National Assembly.”
The US appears to agree, noting that: “such a decision starkly contradicts the spirit of a healthy democratic process.”
“Stripping the salaries and parliamentary status of opposition party legislators deprives the Cambodian people of their voice and hurts the democratic process in Cambodia,” the statement continued.
Repeated requests for comment from Australia, France and the EU have gone unanswered. The countries are among Cambodia’s biggest governance development partners, and have sunk millions of dollars over the past two decades into improving Cambodia’s democratic institutions.
From 2009 until now, the US government alone has disbursed more than $50 million in funds earmarked for democracy, human rights and governance, according to State Department data.
Asked whether the US would consider suspending aid if the lawmakers are not reinstated, embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh, said it was “the wrong question”.
“The focus here is on the democratic process and the action taken by the National Assembly ruling majority does not help the process,” he said.