Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel became the first leader of a Western democracy to congratulate Prime Minister Hun Sen on his party’s landslide victory in the July 29 national elections, issuing a letter wishing him success over the course of his new term of office.
Observers, however, were divided as to the message behind the seemingly positive missive.
The move differs from the stance of Merkel’s Western allies and comes after Germany joined Australia France, the UK, Canada, Sweden and Bulgaria in not attending Wednesday’s opening of parliament.
While most of the embassies did not give reasons for their non-attendance, the US and EU embassies said their ambassadors were “unable to attend” the event.
Australia was the most vocal, saying on Tuesday that it would not be represented due to the “flawed election process” after the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November.
The Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) landslide victory in the poll led to a one-party National Assembly – controlled by the prime minister’s CPP – for the first time in the Kingdom’s modern history.
“Our countries and people have enjoyed good relations. The friendship between our countries has been expressed not least by the cooperation in development policy over many years,” Merkel’s letter says.
“This cooperation has been based on the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, which also provides for the respect for human rights, the rule of law [and] democratic principles, as well as fair and free elections.
“In the great task of strengthening democracy and participation through an open political dialogue in your country, you can count on Germany. I wish you a happy hand and all the best for the important tasks coming upon you,” her letter continues.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he appreciated Merkel’s letter and insisted the new government was born out of the will of the people.
“This is the decision and evaluation by Germany in respect to the choice of the Cambodian people. Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen respects the will and the decision of the Cambodian people,” he said.
Ou Chanrath, a former lawmaker with the CNRP, also saw Merkel’s letter in a positive light.
From the contents of the letter, he said, Germany still hoped there would be a solution to the Cambodian political situation, with the European power willing to keep the door open to dialogue.
“It is a protocol letter, but I see that Germany wants to keep good relations with Cambodia and find a way for dialogue. The political strategy of some countries is that they don’t want to be hostile or confrontational in a way that [makes dialogue difficult].
“So they want to ease the problems by paving the way to and being a bridge for dialogue. I applaud and welcome the efforts of Germany. It is a good thing,” he said.
However, political analyst Lao Mong Hay interpreted the opposite from Merkel’s letter. He said it was clearly a business-like letter – undiplomatic, terse and straight to the point.
He claims it was designed to remind Hun Sen of his responsibilities under the Paris Peace Agreement, which was the basis of cooperation between Germany and Cambodia.
“It’s a notification to our prime minister to honour his Paris Peace Agreement obligations regarding human rights, the rule of law and democracy, and to engage in dialogue with the opposition. He might face consequences if he fails to heed it,” Mong Hay said.
He said it was different from the Chinese Prime Minister’s letter, which lent support to Hun Sen and his government and added to the existing cooperation between China and Cambodia.
The congratulations from other countries, he claimed, came as protocol letters to offer support for the new government and the ruling party.
Meanwhile, Hun Sen is due to make his first official visit as prime minister on Monday, leading a high-level delegation to attend the 15th China-Asean Expo in Nanning city, in China’s Guangxi province, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
The expo is due to close on Wednesday. The prime minister is expected to deliver key remarks during its opening.