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Foreign envoys turn out in force

Foreign ambassadors attend the opening session of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh
Foreign ambassadors attend the opening session of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. VIREAK MAI

Foreign envoys turn out in force

Concerns over election fraud, reports of apparently police-sanctioned attacks on protesters, and even the opposition’s parliamentary boycott did not stop foreign diplomats from attending the opening session of the National Assembly yesterday morning.

The event was attended by representatives from the US, EU, Australia, France, the UK and Japan, among others. While the US embassy and the EU delegation both released statements yesterday stressing that their attendance did not equate to an endorsement of the half-formed parliament, opinions differed on how the attendance of so many liberal, multi-party democracies would be portrayed by the ruling party.

In its statement, the US maintained that “a functioning National Assembly requires the participation of both major political parties”.

Ambassador William Todd, who appeared to studiously avoid Prime Minister Hun Sen’s receiving line at the assembly event – seemingly the only diplomat to do so – told reporters outside the National Assembly that his attendance was “basically for patronage for the King, but this in no way is an endorsement of the election result”.

“America still believes that the election results still have errors and irregularities that need to be looked into,” he added.

The EU, for its part, also pointed to the necessity of both parties’ participation, and noted "with concern the ongoing dispute over alleged irregularities in the electoral process”.

Requests for comment from the Australian, French and Japanese embassies were not returned as of press time.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said yesterday that the ambassadors’ attendance wasn’t inappropriate, even in the post-election period’s charged atmosphere but said that “of course” there was a danger it would be misrepresented.

“They have … already said that the opening was attended by the ambassadors of such and such countries, so as to convey to the public that, yes … the new government was supported by those ambassadors and their respective countries,” he said.

Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann, however, was more optimistic, saying that people would not be misled by Western democracies’ attendance “because you can see [in] the substance of the statements that what the CPP did is illegitimate”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RICK VALENZUELA

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