Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday declared that his endorsement of Donald Trump in the US presidential election had been proved correct by the billionaire’s victory, as ruling party and opposition officials both said they hoped the result boded well for their side.
Trump, the Republican candidate, declared victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton yesterday afternoon Cambodia time, and Hun Sen, who had endorsed the billionaire businessman in a speech last week, said he was pleased with the outcome.
“Congratulations to His Excellency Donald Trump, who has achieved victory in the American presidential election,” Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page shortly after Trump delivered his victory speech in New York.
“A few days ago, when I showed my support for your candidacy, there were some who came out to attack me and accuse you of being a dictator, so that was why someone like me supports you.
“At this moment, what is clear is that the American people need your excellency to lead them, and so my support was not wrong,” Hun Sen wrote.
The premier last week endorsed Trump’s candidacy because he believed the businessman, who has promised a less interventionist foreign policy, would be less likely to start a war with Russia than Clinton.
Council of Minsters spokesman Phay Siphan, who is a US citizen, said he helped campaign for Trump because of his foreign policy views but had been unable to vote for him because he misplaced his passport. He said he was looking forward to Trump’s presidency.
“Well, in Cambodia, we have the shared and common interests of peace, which is shared with his foreign policy,” Siphan said. “It is the same [policy] as Hun Sen, who supports Trump’s foreign policies.”
“Secondly, I think Trump will take care of America first, but the cooperation and strong relations will go on more strongly,” he added. “There will be more peace and stability – which is more important than other issues – because Trump is a businessman.”
“In the last two terms, Obama engaged a lot with other nations in the world, which made many people suffer through his foreign policy. We hope Trump’s foreign policy as president will allow the pressure to be released, and not start World War III.”
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan said he looked forward to a US president who spent less time pushing Cambodia on democracy and human rights, and focussed in-stead on his own country.
“Trump’s vision would seem to be beneficial for Cambodia, as a small country, as he won’t be like the leaders of the big countries,” Eysan said. “They want to consider us as children, and evaluate us poorly without respecting sovereignty and independence.”
He added that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, whose leaders have long relied on support from the US, now had some thinking to do, with opposition leader Sam Rainsy publicly rebuking Trump only last week.
“The opposition leader has attacked Trump as an authoritarian person,” Eysan said. “Well, now the authoritarian has won. So let’s wait and see: Will that attacker now follow the authoritarian? In the past, they depended on the US – ‘the father of democracy’.”
Rainsy, who was a special guest at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July to watch Clinton be nominated for the presidency, last week appeared to endorse the former first lady’s bid for office and rebuked Trump’s political tendencies.
“Clinton is more educated, more broadminded, more inclusive. She seems to care more about social justice,” Rainsy said to the Cambodia Daily. “On the contrary, Trump – with his fiery character and bad temper – seems to be dangerous for world peace.
“Birds of the same feather flock together,” the opposition leader continued. “Trump and Hun Sen are definitely not democrats (with a small d).”
Rainsy yesterday declined to answer questions about his rebuke of Trump, instead pointing to a post on his own Facebook page congratulating Trump on his victory and saying he did not believe the incoming president could change US foreign policy on Cambodia.
“With respect to US foreign policy there are long-established guidelines and, at the top of the establishment, the White House – with the support of the Congress – always relies on a competent and experienced bureaucracy including career diplomats . . . to ensure stability and consistency,” Rainsy wrote.
“I believe there will be no change in the US position and policy towards Cambodia, which continues to suffer from serious deficiencies in the respect for human rights, democracy, justice and rule of law.”
Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy head of public affairs and a daughter of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has a long association with the Republican Party, was optimistic, saying she believed the opposition would strengthen ties with the US under Trump.
“I can tell you that as an international relations person for CNRP, I will make sure we have an even better relationship with this new presidency,” Monovithya said, adding she did not fear that Trump would reduce pressure for democratic change in Cambodia.
“US foreign policy is about promoting US values and interests. In Cambodia’s case, these two are nicely aligned: a real democracy here can help US balance in the region. So, either a Trump or Clinton presidency would support the democratic process here.”
Before his re-entry to politics in 2007, Sokha, who also congratulated Trump yesterday, had founded the Cambodia Center for Human Rights (CCHR) using money from USAID, secured with the help of Mitch McConell, the current Senate majority leader for the Republicans.
The Republicans retained their majority in the Senate, too, a fact Monovithya said also boded well. “We have always had very good relationships with Republican politicians in the Senate and Congress; just look at their records on Cambodia’s issues,” she said.
In any case, US relations with Cambodia will likely not be impacted by any deep-seated positions the president-elect holds about Cambodia, which long ago dropped out of strategic significance for any US president, analysts said.
“I don’t think Trump even knows where Cambodia is,” said Sophal Ear, author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy and an associate professor of diplomacy at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
Ear said the only changes could be that Trump’s economic nationalism may lead to less trade with Cambodia, and that Hun Sen may for the first time in his 30 years in power get along well with a US president.
“Hun Sen endorsed Trump. That already makes a President Trump more likely to favour Hun Sen. Birds of a feather flock together. Trump couldn’t care less about Cambodia’s lack of democratic consolidation. So, one less critic for Hun Sen,” he said. “It will be a love-fest.”
Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said government officials were likely correct to believe that Trump would spend less time pushing Cambodia on abuses – even if the US Congress continued to push democracy and human rights issues.
“Trump has said virtually nothing about these issues, and has certainly shown little desire to promote them in countries like Cambodia, a country he probably couldn’t locate on a map,” Strangio said.
“The US Congress will continue to put pressure on Hun Sen by passing resolutions condemning this or that abuse of democratic power, but I can’t imagine the new administration will provide much support to these efforts. So the most likely result is that a Trump administration will leave Hun Sen to his own devices, something that would only strengthen his hand.”
At the US Embassy, which hosted an election party in the morning that ended before results had arrived, spokesman Jay Raman said that he hoped the past 18 months of electioneering and drama in the US had been entertaining and educational for Cambodians.
For all the chaos surrounding the campaigns, he noted that the US “had peaceful transitions of power throughout our history” of 240 years, and that he remained proud of the American system.
“Well, I hope that you guys have enjoyed watching the way we celebrate our elections. This is the way that we practise our democracy,” Raman said to reporters. “We’re very, very proud of that tradition, and we are delighted we could share some of that.”