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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe walks past honour guards at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Saturday. Vireak Mai

PM asks Japan to help reform

Cambodia has called on Japan, its largest bilateral donor, to send “experts” to help conduct reforms of the electoral system following a two-day official visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Phnom Penh over the weekend.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said he had requested the technical assistance during the bilateral talks on Saturday, though he did not elaborate on what that might mean in practice.

“Cambodia has requested Japan’s help … related to the reformation of elections. I would like to request that Prime Minister Abe consider sending experts or technicians to join the reform of the upcoming election,” Hun Sen said at the joint press conference.

At a briefing later that night, reporters were told that while Abe would favourably consider such a request, no specific reforms were floated at the meeting between the two leaders.

The National Election Committee’s official results of the July election showed that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won 68 seats and the Cambodia National Rescue Party won 55 seats. Independent observers and the opposition reported widespread allegations of electoral fraud during July’s poll.

While the political deadlock has yet to be resolved, the ruling party formed a government and convened the National Assembly in September, but elected opposition lawmakers continue to boycott proceedings.

Kem Sokha, deputy president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, said yesterday that the request for election reform assistance was simply window dressing intended to deflect criticism of the prime minister.

“I don’t think they believe that he [Hun Sen] is willing to reform [the electoral system]. He must form a committee to find the irregularities,” Sokha told the Post.

“The international community and the democratic countries are well aware that the election in the fifth mandate has serious irregularities,” he added.

Accords were also signed on education, security and health care, with an agreement expected to be made toward the eventual export of the Japanese health care model to Cambodia.

The two leaders also expressed their desire for an “early conclusion” to the Code of Conduct for the settlement of the South China Sea conflict, an issue that has seen Cambodia repeatedly accused of siding with benefactor China over fellow ASEAN members.

“The issue of grant aid, the attraction of Japanese investment to Cambodia, the cooperation between people and the connection of flights were the main topics of discussion,” Hun Sen said. “The role of Japan in maintaining peace and security in the region and the world was also discussed,” he said, referring to the South China Sea dispute.

An ASEAN-China joint statement issued last month revealed no breakthrough in talks over the dispute. China wants to settle the issue through a series of bilateral negotiations, not collectively, as Washington, Tokyo and some ASEAN members prefer.

The Japanese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

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