Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Japanese FM signs deal, urges free and fair vote

Japanese FM signs deal, urges free and fair vote

Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Kono (left) meets with Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn (right) and Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre), where he signed grants and loans to Cambodia. Facebook
Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Kono (left) meets with Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn (right) and Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre), where he signed grants and loans to Cambodia. Facebook

Japanese FM signs deal, urges free and fair vote

Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Kono on Sunday signed a deal including millions in grants and loans during a visit to the Kingdom while also stressing the need for free and fair elections, though a Cambodian government spokesperson denied politics were discussed.

Kono signed the agreement for a more than $4.6 million grant and an $86 million loan when meeting Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn and Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday. Norio Maruyama, a press secretary for Japan’s Foreign Ministry, said the meeting had “also touched upon the general elections”, and explained that Japan wanted to see a free and fair poll this July. “We wish that the general elections will be conducted in a way that the will of the people is reflected.”

He noted, however, that Japan refrained from commenting on internal matters, and said the meaning of free and fair was a “philosophical question”. Japan has so far decided on donating ballot boxes but has not yet decided whether to send election observers, Maruyama said.

Compared to other democratic nations, Japan has remained largely silent on the government’s crackdown on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party – its only viable competitor – which was forcibly dissolved amid widespread condemnation in November.

Unlike the US and EU, Japan has continued to fund the National Election Committee, but last week a Japanese emissary urged the government to open negotiations with the former opposition, a proposal that was quickly shot down by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Eng Chhay Eang, a former CNRP deputy president, welcomed Japan’s visit. “I think that Japan does not use the whip; Japan wants to use the carrot to encourage Hun Sen’s government to find the solution,” he said in a message.

But CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan mocked the opposition’s hope of Japan’s intervention.

“In reality, the Japanese foreign minister has said nothing about a political problem in Cambodia,” he said.

Gareth Evans, former Australian foreign affairs minister and key negotiator of the Paris Peace Accords, said last month that he did not expect Japan to apply pressure. “I understand Japan’s contribution to this election is to supply ballot boxes, and that’s fine, but what we would probably find more helpful is if it was a threat of withdrawal of Japanese aid or support if the election is not conducted fairly,” he said.

Celine Pajon, a Japan specialist at the French Institute of International Relations, agreed.

“Japan’s approach to diplomacy promotion abroad is to actively call for more democratic practices, but continue with the economic support as an incentive for the recipient country. Unless it receives strong pressure from the US, it seldom applies sanctions, especially if the recipient country is strategic for its interests,” she said in an email. “Cambodia is [one] such country.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy stopped in Paris from boarding Thai flight

    Airline officials at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport on Thursday prevented Sam Rainsy from boarding his flight to Bangkok ahead of his announced return to Cambodia on Saturday. Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier in the day assured Phnom Penh residents that there would be

  • Analyst: Rainsy blocked from boarding flight 'an excuse'

    THAI Airways not allowing Sam Rainsy on its route from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday is being used as an excuse to keep his standing among fellow coup plotters and his uninformed supporters as flights to non-Asean countries are available, an analyst said on Friday.

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • MEPs' call for Rainsy's safety not European Parliament position

    The European Parliament said on Friday that a statement by 56 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) calling for guarantees of Sam Rainsy’s freedom and safety should he return to Cambodia did not represent its position. Delphine Colard, the European Parliament’s press officer told