China will donate more than 30 different kinds of equipment – including 60,000 polling booths and 15,000 ballot boxes – to the National Election Committee (NEC) ahead of next year’s general elections.
The pledge is the first of its kind since the European Union and United States withdrew their support of the election body after the Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the nation’s only viable opposition – in November.
China will provide 134 computers, 30 security cameras and a number of radios, printers and pieces of office furniture, according to the NEC.
NEC official Dim Sovannarom said the equipment is “very important to ensure the election can be held regularly, independently and transparently”. He added that he does not yet know the monetary value of the equipment.
China donated nearly $12 million worth of equipment to the NEC last year. The EU also pledged roughly $12 million to the NEC but withdrew its support earlier this month with roughly $1.5 million unspent, according to EU Ambassador George Edgar.
Sovannarom said the NEC made an appeal to other countries for assistance in early October and received confirmation from China on Sunday.
“Even though the EU suspended its assistance, we still receive assistance from the international community, especially China,” Sovannarom said.
China has been perhaps the only member of the international community to express its support of the government’s crackdown on the opposition, and in recent years Cambodia has embraced Chinese aid as it pivots away from the West.
Astrid Noren-Nilsson, an expert on Cambodian politics at Lund University, said China’s aid has historically been directed toward infrastructure projects, while the US and Europe have focused on democracy building.
The fact that China is stepping into electoral aid suggests Cambodia is rapidly turning closer to the Chinese political model, she said.
“In filling in where the US and EU pulled out, Beijing is making good of its promise to stick with the Cambodian government through thick and thin,” Noren-Nilsson said.
The Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment yesterday.