Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday said he didn’t care whether the international community endorsed next year’s elections – the legitimacy of which critics have questioned amidst a crackdown on the opposition – raising concerns the Kingdom could find itself isolated if world powers decline to recognise the vote.
Speaking at a youth event in Phnom Penh, the premier appeared to be responding to a statement released by United States Senator Ted Cruz on Thursday in which the senator said it was “impossible for the United States and our allies to recognize the legitimacy” of the 2018 national elections if, among other conditions, Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha were not released from prison.
The Hun Sen administration has faced mounting pressure from foreign governments and elected representatives after charging Kem Sokha with “treason” and initiating dissolution proceedings against the largest opposition party in the country.
Additionally, it has ratcheted up pressure on NGOs, shuttered radio stations broadcasting independent news and forced the closure of the English-language newspaper the Cambodia Daily over a tax dispute – with all of these developments being linked by foreign governments to the legitimacy of next year’s elections.
“We are determined to adhere to a multi-party democracy with regular elections, and others should not threaten us that they will not recognise the elections,” he said on Friday.
The only endorsement he cared about, he continued, was that of the Cambodian people. Furthermore, he said, there was no law requiring foreign entities to approve an election’s legitimacy.
“The National Election Committee will declare the final results, then the King calls for the National Assembly meeting and the King will promote the prime minister from the winning party,” he said, adding that this was the only recognition needed of the electoral process.
National elections in 2013 were marred with allegations of voter fraud – raised by the opposition and both local and international elections observers – with the recent commune elections in July deemed not “fully free and fair” thanks in large part to a hostile atmosphere attributed to violent rhetoric from government and security officials.
In a speech of his own yesterday, former CNRP President Sam Rainsy said that contrary to Hun Sen’s claims, the premier actually coveted international approbation, but that the only way to ensure free and fair elections was with the prime minister’s ouster.
“There can be no lasting solution to the current political crisis if we accept Hun Sen to remain in power,” said Rainsy, speaking to Cambodian diaspora in the Long Beach, California.
“The next government will be formed after a free and fair election, but Hun Sen doesn’t want real elections, so how can we work with Hun Sen?” he added.
The European Union and Japan have been some of the biggest financial contributors to the electoral process in Cambodia, with the latter reaffirming its funding for the NEC late last month.
Japanese Ambassador Hidehisa Horinouchi yesterday held the same line. “Japan will continue to support the electoral reform of Cambodia, expecting that the elections will be held in a free and fair manner,” he said.
The EU did not respond to requests for comment.
Sotheara Youerng, legal officer with election monitor Comfrel, said the premier’s stance could potentially isolate the Kingdom and jeopardised future engagement with countries that questioned the legitimacy of the elections, especially on the economic front.
“The international community is the market for Cambodian [exports]. They should consider thoroughly and deeply any such decision,” he said.
However, political commentator Meas Nee said it seemed like the government had already weighed the pros and cons and would likely go ahead with next year’s elections despite international consternation.
“This is not strange and it can happen. When they do not recognise the elections, our country will not be in the international arena and they will not offer us aid,” he said.
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga