Cambodia’s Democracy On Trial

Posted by: | Posted on: January 26, 2020

ជាការចូលរួមចំណែកបន្ថែមទៅអ្វីដែលអ្នកស្រីអ៊ីណូសបានពន្យល់ក្បោះក្បាយហើយនោះ លោកហ៊ុនសែនហាក់បានត្រៀមសំរួចអាវុធបំផ្លាញប្រជាធិបតេយ្យទុកជាបណ្តើរៗមានដូចជាច្បាប់គណបក្សនយោបាយ គណៈកម្មការជាតិរៀបចំការបោះឆ្នោត និងច្បាប់គ្រប់គ្រងអង្គការសង្គមស៊ីវីលជាដើម។ ច្បាប់ទាំងអស់នេះ តើអាចនឹងប្រើប្រាស់ទៅអនាគតបានទេក្នុងទិដ្ឋភាពមួយដែលគណបក្សប្រជាជននឹងក្លាយជាបក្សជំទាស់នោះ?

Adding to that Enos has clearly articulated, Hun Sen has backup several tool to undermine democracy such as ratifying the political party law, the Natinal Election Committee, and the LINGO Law. Shall these laws be enforced when Cambodian People Party (CPP) has become the opposition party?

Cambodia’s Democracy On Trial

Olivia Enos

Olivia EnosContributor PolicyI write about international human rights and national security.

Anti Government Protestors Demand Freedom Of Opposition MP's Arrested During Demos
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA – JULY 16: Opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha gives a … [+]GETTY IMAGES

Last week, Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha was brought before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on politically-motivated charges of treason. If found guilty, he could serve up to 30 years in prison.

Kem Sokha isn’t the only one on trial. Cambodia’s democracy is, too.

After nearly 35 years as commander-in-chief, Prime Minister Hun Sen has run Cambodia’s democracy into the ground – so much so that it can hardly be called democratic today.

Hun Sen targeted Kem Sokha when it became clear that he and his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) posed a real electoral threat. The 2013 elections were uncomfortably close for Hun Sen; the CNRP won 55 of the 123 parliamentary seats.

These elections proved a turning point. Hun Sen refused to continue the mirage of democracy in Cambodia and went full-fledged despot on the Cambodian people.

Kem Sokha’s arrest and detention in September 2017 was an early nail in the coffin of Cambodia’s democracy. His arrest was quickly followed by a broad crackdown on civil society and, eventually, Cambodia’s Supreme Court decision to dissolve the opposition. The majority of Cambodia’s opposition leadership now lives in exile abroad.

Even prior to last week’s trial, Kem Sokha already endured a lot. He lived for two years under arbitrary imprisonment and house arrest where he was denied access to much-needed medical care and isolated from other members of the CNRP, including his own family members.

The evidence for Cambodia’s political deterioration in undeniable. The question is whether it can pave the way for new leadership that embraces political reform in the future? The international community is watching closely as this trial proceeds and weighing carefully its responses.

The U.S. has already taken a number of steps to hold Cambodia’s rogue leadership accountable. Last December, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned several Cambodian companies and individuals—including Try Pheap and Khun Kim—for engaging in corruption.

This was the second time that Cambodians were designated under Global Magnitsky for their involvement in undermining democracy. Treasury previously designated Hun Sen’s notorious bodyguard, Hing Bun Hieng, in June 2018, just ahead of that year’s rigged general elections.

Moreover, Washington has repeatedly signaled its displeasure through statements and condemnations of sham elections, numerous requests to release Kem Sokha (prior to his release from house arrest in November 2019), and even legislation in Congress proposing the revocation of Cambodia’s preferential trade status.

The European Union (EU) is currently considering whether to revoke its own version of preferential trade status and is expected to hand down its decision in February.

The proceedings in Kem Sokha’s trial will no doubt have bearing on the actions of both the U.S. and the EU. As the U.S. noted when it sanctioned both Try Pheap and Khun Kim, corruption and poor governance are threatening to U.S. interests in Asia:

The United States prioritizes anticorruption efforts as a key part of its vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, recognizing good governance as integral to U.S. foreign policy and national security interests and in line with U.S. values.

If conditions in Cambodia continue to deteriorate, and it hands down yet another unjust sentence to as high-ranking a government official as Kem Sokha, the U.S.  will have no choice but to take further action.

Cambodia would do well to heed the warning shots already fired by the U.S. and the EU. Clearly, they are prepared to take additional steps to hold the Southeast Asian nation’s rogue leadership accountable. Additional sanctions are likely, and broad-sweeping economic consequences are possible. Rather than continue its march toward decline, Cambodia’s leadership should consider a different path: one toward political reform.

An earlier version of the story said that Hing Bun Hieng was designated under Global Magnitsky in 2019. He was designated in 2018.

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