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Japan pledges $7.5 million for Cambodian elections despite legitimacy concerns

Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and Japanese Ambassador Hidehisa Horinouchi shake hands earlier today after Japan pledged an additional $7.5 million dollars worth of equipment for Cambodia's July election.
Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and Japanese Ambassador Hidehisa Horinouchi shake hands earlier today after Japan pledged an additional $7.5 million dollars worth of equipment for Cambodia's July election. Pha Lina

Japan pledges $7.5 million for Cambodian elections despite legitimacy concerns

Amid widespread international condemnation of Cambodia’s upcoming elections, Japan pledged an additional $7.5 million worth of equipment for the July polls this morning.

The grant, signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and Japanese Ambassador Hidehisa Horinouchi, will provide “ballot boxes as well as other necessary equipment,” according to a press release.

“Japan's continued assistance to Cambodia, as a whole, and to the National Election Committee, in particular, represents Japan's commitment to help the Kingdom of Cambodia to achieve economic growth and sustainable development,” the release continues.

In November, the only viable opposition party – the Cambodia National Rescue Party – was dissolved by the Supreme Court for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government, and its leader Kem Sokha was imprisoned in September. The accusation was slammed by much of the international community as a fabricated pretence to cement power for the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

The US immediately withdrew funding for Cambodia’s elections, and the European Union followed suit soon thereafter. Calls by rights groups and opposition figures for Japan to do the same have been ignored.

“Japan offered about 10,000 ballot boxes,” said Horinouchi at the event, adding that it is “sponsoring electoral reform… so that the election system in Cambodia can be trusted by the Cambodian people”.

Sokhonn expressed “sincere gratitude”, while NEC president Sik Bun Hok noted that Japan is a good “friend” of Cambodia.

“Japan, our friend, has never abandoned us and never interfered in our internal affairs,” he said.

Kem Monovithya, a CNRP figure and daughter of the imprisoned former party leader, questioned the decision.

In a message to The Post, she said the only justifiable reason for Japan’s continued support was if they can “ensure the elections will be free and fair”.

“Otherwise,” she continued, “Japan would have to explain to at least half of the entire Cambodian population why it is supporting an artificial election that robs the will of millions of people.”

The Japanese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.