The ruling party won a landslide victory in polls that garnered both criticism and praise internationally, while the EU began the process of withdrawing access to its ‘EBA’ trade deal and Kem Sokha was released on bail.
Here The Phnom Penh Post looks back on the events that shaped 2018, from an opposition “party coup”, to the Lower Sesan II hydropower dam going online.
CPP Convention vote takes central committee members to 865
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on January 21 adopted its political programmes for developing and defending the Kingdom between 2018-23 and elected 342 members to the Central Committee, bringing the number of members to 865.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the move would “add new blood to promote, restore and build development in all sectors and defend the country.”
Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch, who was elected to the committee, expressed his determination to serve the Kingdom and its people.
National Assembly president Heng Samrin said: “The CPP is formed by Cambodian people to unify Cambodian people. We people have faced difficulty and the CPP has always appeared [to help] and stay with [them].”
Ousted Takeo provincial governor arrested
Former Takeo provincial governor Lay Vannak was arrested on April 1 in Takeo province in connection with the murder of a widowed mother of three, Cheng Sovathana, a staff member at the National Assembly.
The arrest was made after Vannak had just finished an event transferring the position of Takeo provincial governor. Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Sieng Sok ordered the arrest in connection with the murder of a woman on January 26 at a rental house in Donkeo town, Takeo province.
In addition to Vannak, a further five people were arrested, including his brother Lay Narith, a former provincial deputy police chief. Before the arrest, Vannak denied that he and his brother committed the murder, but admitted that he had a love affair with Sovathana, claiming that her death was suicide.
Institutions react to visa sanctions on Hing Bun Heang
Military top brass and rank and file at the Ministry of National Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the prime minister’s cabinet all condemned the US on June 13 for freezing property belonging to Hing Bun Heang, the commander of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, and the imposition of visa sanctions.
The US claimed the move came from an executive order targeting the perpetrators of corruption and serious human rights abuses.
Bun Heang said he had no property or businesses in the US, and declared that he was prepared to hit back at US citizens who did not respect the Kingdom’s sovereignty and who had ambitions to interfere in Cambodia.
Political parties begin election campaigning
On the first day of the official election campaigning period on July 9, the CPP held a mass gathering on the island of Koh Pich in the capital, with around 60,000 supporters joining party president Hun Sen. As other political parties launched their campaigns, Hun Sen hailed the election as a “historical event”.
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha, then detained in Tbong Khmum province’s Trapaing Phlong prison awaiting trial on treason charges, appealed to supporters to be patient, while fellow CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy appealed from abroad for people to boycott the election with the “Clean Finger” and “Sleep Home, Win Clean” campaigns.
Though some parties had some complaints of irregularities, the National Election Committee evaluated that campaigning had gone smoothly nationwide.
CPP in landslide election victory
In an unprecedented situation in Cambodian politics, the CPP took all 125 seats in the National Assembly on the back of receiving 76 per cent of the vote in the July 29 national elections.
The NEC also said no complaints were made during the 72-hour window after the preliminary count was announced.
The ruling CPP received a total of 4,889,113 votes, or 76 per cent of the total, while the royalist Funcinpec party came second with 374,510 votes. Khem Veasna’s League for Democracy Party (LDP) was third with 309,364 votes.
Prime MInister Hun Sen said after the results were released: “[The results] reflect that people believe in the leadership of the CPP.” He expressed his thanks to the 19 other parties that took part, while calling the elections free, fair and transparent.
NEC hails the July 29 national election as a ‘success’
After the election campaign period concluded on July 29, the NEC heralded the 83.02 per cent voter turnout as a success for Cambodia. After giving over two weeks for opposition political parties to file complaints, the NEC declared the official results on August 15 showing the CPP received 4,889,113 votes and won all 125 seats in the National Assembly.
Sam Rainsy, Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) president, posted on Facebook that it was a “fake victory”, while some Western countries criticised the running of the elections.
The CPP hailed the victory as “a new historic achievement”, slamming criticism of the polls as an unsuccessful opposition trick and dismissed criticisms from the West as a “serious insult to the will of Cambodians” who voted.
Consultation Forum is established
The Consultation Forum was established on August 21 as an initiative from Prime Minister Hun Sen in order to join and check the gaps in government implementation.
Though some civil society groups dismissed the new institutions as “useless”, Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch said the invitation of political parties that did not win seats in the July polls was to let them also help serve the Kingdom.
Prisoners released Four Boeung Kak community activists and 14 former CNRP activists were released on different days in August, while two Radio Free Asia staffers were granted bail after a royal decree.
The royal decree came at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen on humanitarian grounds after those held had asked him to intervene. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy claimed the releases were a response to international pressure.
National Assembly holds first meeting after elections
After the NEC declared the election result with the CPP winning all 125 seats, the National Assembly held its first meeting on September 5 in the presence of King Norodom Sihamoni.
Speaking at the opening session, the King called for “national unity and solidarity” based on the spirit of unification and four moral principles – benevolence, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity.
However, nine of the 31 invited embassies did not attend the opening of parliament, notably from Western countries, while 22 others including Asian giants sent their ambassadors or representatives.
National Assembly elects leaders and supports new government
One day after its first session, the 125 lawmakers of the National Assembly on September 6 unanimously approved the election of its president, vice-presidents, the chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of its technical committees and the composition of the new government.
Cambodian People’s Party honorary president Heng Samrin was approved as the new president of the National Assembly, while Nguon Nhil was made first vice-president and Khuon Sodary second vice-president. The chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of the 10 state committees were also elected.
Parliament also voted in support of the composition of the new government by approving CPP president Hun Sen to continue in his role as prime minister for another five years – the term of the sixth mandate of the Royal Government of Cambodia.
Kem Sokha released on court-supervised bail
Kem Sokha was released on bail from Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province on September 10, under conditions his lawyers claimed amounted to “house arrest”.
But according to the verdict issued by investigating judge Ky Rithy, the decision was made out of concern for his health. He must follow requirements such as not going outside the boundaries of his home as determined by the court, and not contacting former CNRP leaders and foreigners with regard to his charge.
Western countries including Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia, called for the charges against him to be dropped, as the government officials said that it was the discretion of the courts.
Prime Minister Hun Sen leads delegation to UN
After the National Assembly voted in support of the new government, Prime Minister Hun Sen led a delegation to attend meetings in the 73rd General Assembly of the UN in New York, US, which was a four-day visit from September 27, in which there were also groups supporting and opposing his presence there.
Speaking to defend the July’s election with 83.02 per cent turnout, Hun Sen called negative assessments from outside “a serious insult” to the will of Cambodian citizens and an attempt to “interfere” into Cambodia’s internal affairs.
He called on UN members to pay attention to the “importance of [its] charter” and “avoid interference, intervention or disruption to the democracy of an independent state.”
Although there were groups both cheering and protesting the presence of Hun Sen’s delegation, government officials hailed the visit as a “success” while the group of former CNRP officials claimed it was [their] success too.
Hun Sen visits Turkey
After attending the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Hun Sen paid a three-day visit to Turkey (October 20-22) to promote relations and strengthen cooperation between the two countries.
After a meeting between Hun Sen and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, both parties signed agreements on eight protocols. Hun Sen also met hundreds of Cambodian students studying there.
Cambodia allows UN Human Rights Office two-year extension
The Royal Government of Cambodia renewed for another two years the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Phnom Penh, but requested cooperation between the UN and Cambodia before assessing human rights cases in the Kingdom.
This decision was made in a meeting between Hun Sen and Michelle Bachelet, Chief UN Commissioner on Human Rights on October 23 in Geneva, Switzerland.
EU gives notice on start of ‘EBA’ withdrawal process
The EU on October 5 gave notice on starting of the process for withdrawing Cambodia’s access to the “Everything But Arms”(EBA) preferential trade deal that allows developing nations tax and duty free imports to the 28-nation bloc.
The EU trade commission said it had launched the procedure to withdraw Cambodia’s access to the EBA based on claims the government had committed human rights violations and rowed back on its democratic advance.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the EU based its grounds on a report that did not reflect the reality in Cambodia.
Also on October 5, the EU notified Cambodia that the Kingdom would lose its tax and duty-free access to the EU market unless it makes “clear and demonstrable improvements” to human rights and democracy in the Kingdom.
“High Representative Federica Mogherini and I have notified Cambodia that we are launching the process for the withdrawal of their Everything But Arms preferences,” European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom wrote in the European Commission’s blog on that date.
“Without clear and evident improvements on the ground, this will lead to the suspending of the trade preferences that they currently enjoy,” she said.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights visits Cambodia
Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, paid an 11-day visit to Cambodia from October 29 to November 8 at the invitation of the Royal Government of Cambodia.
During the visit, she met with senior government officials, representatives of civil society, associations, communities and diplomats.
Smith in a press conference called on all charges against Kem Sokha, land activists and human rights defenders, including journalists, to be dropped, and urged the Ministry of Justice and the court system to be transparent, fight corruption and strengthen the independence and neutrality of the legal system.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said what had been raised by Smith were issues the government was already tackling. However, Sokha’s case came solely under the authority of the courts, and so could not be interfered with.
Smith is due to submit a report from the visit to the UN’s Human Rights Council in September this year.
Khmer Rouge tribunal sentences Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan to life imprisonment
After 283 days, Case 002/02 at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) sentenced former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan to life imprisonment on November 16 on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The sentencing from the Khmer Rouge tribunal was hailed nationally and internationally for providing justice for the victims of the genocidal regime.
Rainsy named acting president of former CNRP
Sam Rainsy was appointed acting president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party in the US on December 2, while pro-Kem Sokha leaders slammed it as “party coup”.
On January 13, Rainsy created the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) without agreement from pro-Sokha opposition leaders after Rainsy resigned from the CNRP as its president, and as a member, on February 11, 2017.
There have been no reports to date that he has left the CNRM.
Lower Sesan II hydropower dam inaugurated
Cambodia’s Lower Sesan II hydropower dam in Stung Treng province was officially inaugurated on December 17 under the presidency of Prime Minister Hun Sen after taking five years to construct.
The 6.5km dam resulted from a joint venture between three companies: China’s Hydrolancang International Energy with 51 per cent, Royal Group 39 per cent and Vietnam with 10 per cent in a Build-Operate-Transfer scheme under the 45-year concession from the Royal Government.
Speaking at the facility’s inauguration, Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed great pride that the investment was made with participation from three countries and that the project was made with thorough consideration.
By Prum Pheak