Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UK minister ‘dismayed’ at Kingdom’s current affairs

UK minister ‘dismayed’ at Kingdom’s current affairs

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Mark Field, the UK’s Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, shakes hands with Sar Kheng, Cambodia’s Interior Minister, at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Pha Lina

UK minister ‘dismayed’ at Kingdom’s current affairs

The UK’s Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, Mark Field, has called on the Kingdom to release former opposition leader Kem Sokha and remedy an alleged backsliding of democracy.

However, responding to such comments, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the fate of Cambodia is to be decided by the Kingdom itself.

Field’s first visit to the Kingdom will see him having meetings until Thursday. He will hold talks with top government officials, civil society members and the private sector.

Wednesday saw him at talks with Prime Minister-designate Hun Sen, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn and Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron, where discussions centred around the July 29 national polls and bilateral ties between the two nations.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a landslide victory in one of the most contentious national elections in recent memory due to the non-participation of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its voter boycott calls.

It was revealed last week that the CPP swept all 125 seats in the National Assembly, marking the first time in modern history that the legislative body will be controlled by a single party.

Western critics have slammed the election, calling it a “sham”, while many Southeast Asian nations joined India, China and Russia among others in expressing support for the result of the polls.

After his meeting with officials at the capital’s Peace Palace on Wednesday, Field held a brief press conference with journalists at the British Ambassador’s residence.

“I had a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen. I said to him: ‘Let me be candid. We saw the commune elections which took place in June last year. We thought the right path to democracy was continuing.

“‘[But] we were very disappointed and rather dismayed, I have to say, that it was not a fully participatory [general] election. There was an outlawing of a major opposition party.

“‘Kem Sokha has been imprisoned. We continue to request that he should be released. We should open up the political space as far as possible.’”

Commenting on the royal pardon for land rights activist Tep Vanny, the release of analyst Kim Sok and the release on bail of former Radio Free Asia (RFA) Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin on espionage charges, Field expressed optimism over the political situation in the Kingdom.

“I said to the prime minister this morning: ‘We want to see progress. We want to see the road to democracy being restored in Cambodia. We will continue to work closely. We remain friends with the Cambodian people.

“‘Sometimes, the road towards freedom is not entirely a linear path. I hope that this downward step will be followed by a doubling of efforts to strengthen that road to democracy, not just for this country, but for the 16 million [people] who live here’,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
British diplomat Mark Field. wikicommons

On Thursday, Field will visit the headquarters of Halo Trust Cambodia in Siem Reap province to meet demining teams which are being funded by the UK.

During his tour of Southeast Asia, he had also met leaders from Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei and Thailand. After his time in the Kingdom, Field will move on to diplomatic meetings in Laos.

Responding to the British diplomat’s comments on the elections, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he hadn’t gotten enough information about the poll to make his comments.

“[Field] has never been in Cambodia [before this visit]. He only heard about Cambodia from others. And he did not receive complete information on the Kingdom.

“He knew [about the country] only through reports or newspapers whose authors do not reside in Cambodia. So this is an opportunity for us to explain matters to him,” he said.

Regarding the request for Kem Sokha’s release, Siphan stressed that the government cannot and does not interfere with the judiciary.

“Cambodia is an equal partner with other countries. Demanding that we do something interferes in our internal affairs. When he requested [Sokha’s release], he had not received proper information and did not pay attention as a partner,” he said.

During talks with Sokhonn in the afternoon, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ket Sophann said Field expressed support for Hun Sen’s move to create the Consultation Forum – a committee of opposition party leaders brought into the fold of government as advisers.

“He also supported the spirit of reconciliation which was created by Samdech Prime Minister [Hun Sen] and the [Consultation Forum],” Sophann said.

Lecturer and special adviser for international affairs at Naresuan University Paul Chambers said Field “simply expressed the opinion of perhaps the world’s oldest liberal democracy, the UK, that the July 29 elections in Cambodia were extremely deficient”.

“The comment reflected the international community’s disappointment with Cambodia’s path toward diminishing political space and dictatorship,” he told The Post.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Phnom Penh governor: Show Covid-19 vaccination cards, or else

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng late on October 5 issued a directive requiring all people aged 18 and over and the parents of children aged 6-17 to produce Covid-19 vaccination cards when entering schools, markets, malls, marts, eateries and other business establishments that have been permitted

  • Cambodia seeks probe into 'false reports' on Hun Sen's alleged Cypriot passport

    Minister of Justice Koeut Rith on September 6 wrote a letter to his Cypriot counterpart Stephie Dracos requesting cooperation in investigating and providing the truth in relation to the "exaggerative and false allegations" that Prime Minister Hun Sen holds a Cypriot passport. In his letter, the

  • 'Pandora Papers' expose leaders' offshore millions

    More than a dozen heads of state and government, from Jordan to Azerbaijan, Kenya and the Czech Republic, have used offshore tax havens to hide assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a far-reaching new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (