US and EU urge Cambodia to undo banning opposition party

By: Madeleine Keck - Posted on: November 17, 2017 | Cambodia

The dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and banning of more than 100 of its politicians ahead of next year’s election has been labelled as the ‘death’ of the nation’s democracy

Cambodian Buddhist monks walk past the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 17, 2017 Photo: Mak Remissa

Cambodia’s government is facing international criticism after the Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the nation’s main opposition party, effectively removing the only surviving electoral obstacle to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s steadfast reign in the Kingdom.

The European Union (EU) has threatened the subtraction of vital trade preferences and the US vowed “concrete steps” would be taken against the nation after a government-filed lawsuit declared the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) guilty of plotting to stage a “colour revolution”.

On Thursday, the US demanded the country reverse its ban on the CNRP warning that the dissolution would strip the 2018 elections of any legitimacy.

“On current course next year’s election will not be legitimate, free, or fair,” the White House said in a statement. “[Cambodia] must undo its recent actions against the CNRP, release imprisoned CNRP leader Kem Sokha, and allow opposition parties, civil society and the media to maintain their legitimate activities.”

The US also said they would pull back support for Cambodia’s National Election Committee before the upcoming election.

Mirroring Washington’s worry, the EU demanded the nation quickly reinstate a process in which all parties are able to openly carry out their legitimate functions.

“An electoral process from which the main opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded is not legitimate,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement. “Respect of fundamental human rights is a prerequisite for Cambodia to continue to benefit from the EU’s preferential Everything But Arms scheme.”

The scheme provides a range of beneficial trade preferences, with the most notable one being the tariff-free access to the US. This specific arrangement is one that has helped Cambodia build a garment industry on low cost labor.

But despite this threat of Cambodia becoming excluded from the scheme should they not adhere to the US and EU’s requests, it would most likely be years before it was actually implemented as the process for revoking them from the partnership is a rather tedious task.

Together with the White House statement, the US senate passed a resolution asking the Treasury and State Departments to look into placing Cambodian executives associated with abuses and corruption on watch lists for travel bans and asset freezes.

Hun Sen ally and undersecretary of state at Cambodia’s Interior Ministry, Huy Vannak, responded that the US call was “made without consideration to the evidence and court hearing”.

“We hope that the US will consider the overall bilateral relations with Cambodia and continue to collaborate with common interests of both countries.”

No immediate government response was issued after the EU and US statements. The government has subsequently dismissed threats of foreign action, and remained steadfast regarding China’s commitment, which is the nation’s biggest aid donor and investor.

Late on Thursday evening, Hun Sen declared in a televised broadcast that the election would go ahead as anticipated and enticed politicians from the CNRP who had not been expelled to join his Cambodian People’s Party.