Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 58 out of 62 Senate seats at 25 Feb election conducted by MPs and commune councillors, which members of dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) called a “sham”. National Assembly 14 Feb approved constitutional amendments and changes to criminal code, including lèse majesté law carrying punishment of up to five years’ prison and fine for insulting monarchy; justice minister said it will apply to media outlets carrying defamatory content and to journalists. Other amendments include requiring political parties to “place the country and nation’s interests first” and forbidding individuals from “undermining the country’s interest”. Senate approved changes 21 Feb. Bipartisan group of U.S. senators 8 Feb introduced Cambodia Accountability and Return on Investment (CARI) Act imposing conditions on assistance to Cambodia, expanding visa ban on officials, freezing assets of senior officials, and prohibiting debt relief, until “free and fair parliamentary elections have taken place” including “full and unimpeded participation” of dissolved opposition party. In 21 Feb speech, Hun Sen promised to pursue and beat up protesters if they burn effigies of him at March summit of ASEAN leaders in Sydney, Australia. Germany 22 Feb suspended preferential visas for private travel by members of Cambodia’s govt in response to its crackdown on opposition and civil society, and encouraged other EU member states to impose similar measures. EU Foreign Affairs Council 26 Feb expressed deep concern over “recent worrying political developments and the continuing deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, including the escalating repression of the opposition, media and civil society”.
The violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier this year have challenged the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to turn its rhetoric into action, but to achieve peace and security more robust diplomacy is required to end a still unresolved conflict.
Almost a decade after the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, Cambodia is at peace and the government is at last secure enough to contemplate the trials of some Khmer Rouge leaders.
The international community collectively heaved a sigh of relief when Cambodia’s rival factions moved back from the brink of disaster and agreed to form a fresh coalition government in November 1998 after weeks of violent protests and political deadlock.
Cambodia’s electoral process re-lit the candle of democracy that had first flickered into flame with the restoration of peace in 1991, after more than two decades of strife.
Cambodia is set to take to the polls in barely six weeks time, with some fearing the elections will cement in place a de facto dictatorship and others seeing them as the last chance to ensure that the country’s fledgling democratic process remains on track.
Originally published in The Jakarta Post