Amid ongoing concerns over govt crackdown on opposition parties and politicians, Transparency International Cambodia 20 June announced it will not monitor 29 July general elections, joining two other election NGOs who earlier decided against monitoring polls. Asian Network for Free Elections 14 June released report from May pre-election assessment saying elections will be neither free nor fair, citing inter alia intimidation of voters and lack of protection of civil and political rights. Govt 27 June said 50,000 observers, including from China, Myanmar and Singapore, will monitor polls. U.S. 12 June imposed sanctions on Hing Bun Hieng, commander of PM Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, citing unit’s involvement in violence against unarmed Cambodians dating back to 1997. Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe visited Cambodia 17-20 June, pledged over $1mn military aid; countries agreed to increase military cooperation and conduct visit by Chinese navy in 2019. Prosecutor 20 June summoned exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to face charge of lèse-majesté for 6 June Facebook post in which he claimed that a recent letter from King Norodom Sihamoni was written under duress.
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