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Reversing Cambodia’s democratic drift
Op-Ed: East Asia Forum
14 February 2019
One viable approach to halting the degeneration of Cambodia’s ersatz democracy is to engage in channels of dialogue at both national and international levels. At the national level, it is imperative to resume the culture of dialogue between the ruling CPP and the dissolved CNRP.ដំណោះស្រាយទៅបានដោយរលូនមួយដើម្បីទប់ស្កាត់ការលូតលាស់នៃប្រជាធិបតេយ្យគ្រាន់តែជាត្រីមុខរបស់កម្ពុជាគឺការបន្តជជែកគ្នានៅគ្រប់កំរិតថ្នាក់ទាំងអស់ ទាំងថ្នាក់ជាតិនិងអន្តរជាតិ។ នៅថ្នាក់ជាតិ វាសំខាន់ចាំបាច់ដើម្បីសើរើវប្បធម៍សន្ទនារវាងគណបក្សប្រជាជនគ្រប់គ្រងអំណាចនិងគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិដែលត្រូវបានរំលាយ។ ការសន្ទនាកំរិតអន្តរជាតិទាមទារការចូលរួមនិងការសហការពីតួអង្គខាងក្រៅសំខាន់ៗដែលមានអានុភាពពិសេសទៅលើទិដ្ឋភាពសេដ្ឋកិច្ចនិងនយោបាយកម្ពុជា មានដូចជាសហរដ្ឋអាមេរិក សហគមអុឺរ៉ុប និងចិន។ តួអង្គដ៏ទៃទៀតដូចជាអូស្ត្រាលី ជប៉ុន និងអាស៊ានក៏ជាតួអង្គសំខាន់ផងដែរ។ តាមរយៈនីតិវិធីនៃការពិភាក្សានិងចរចារទាំងនេះ ទិសដៅនៃលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យរបស់កម្ពុជា ដែលមនុស្សភាគច្រើនយល់ថាកំពុងធ្លាក់ទៅក្នុងរបបផ្តាច់ការ អាចនឹងត្រូវបានរស់រានឡើងវិញ។
Dialogue at the international level requires participation and coordination from key external players that have significant leverage over Cambodia’s political and economic landscape, such as the United States, the European Union and China. Other players like Australia, Japan and ASEAN are also important.
Through these channels of discussion and negotiation the course of Cambodia’s democracy, perceived by many as a drift towards autocratic rule, can be reversed.
Authors: Kimkong Heng, University of Queensland and Veasna Var, UNSW Canberra
Cambodia is drifting towards autocracy with a clear trend. An unprecedented crackdown on independent media, civil society and the country’s major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), hardly suggest otherwise. Whether Hun Sen’s government likes it or not, similar observations about Cambodia will continue to emerge.
Although 19 smaller parties participated in the July 2018 national elections, commentators and observers questioned the credibility of the election. Some called it a sham. Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was unchallenged in the election, allowing the CPP to secure a predictable landslide victory. The party won all 125 parliamentary seats.
Hun Sen’s recent political moves have not gone unnoticed. The United States has placed sanctions on high-ranking Cambodian government officials. The European Union has begun a formal procedure to withdraw its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences. And the Australian and Japanese governments have raised concerns over the dissolution of the main opposition party.
Now, as international pressure mounts, Cambodia’s political tensions seem to be easing. In December 2018 the Cambodian National Assembly amended the Law on Political Parties, paving the way for the 118 banned CNRP politicians to return to politics.
It remains to be seen whether all CNRP officials will request political rehabilitation. So far, only two have. If this trend continues, a division within the opposition between supporters of acting CNRP President Sam Rainsy and former CNRP president Kem Sokha, who was arrested in 2017 prior to the party’s dissolution, may become more severe and lead to a split.
Sam Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile, recently announced that he would return to Cambodia this year to fight for change and democracy. He even challenged Hun Sen to a bet over the likelihood of Kem Sokha’s release amid mounting international pressure. He faces imprisonment if he loses, but if he wins Hun Sen has agreed to step down from power.
The high-stakes wager reflects the country’s political dysfunction and could result in a lose-lose situation for both prominent Cambodian political figures. Hun Sen may come under more criticism and Sam Rainsy could further damage his already compromised integrity if they fail to stick to the terms of their political wager. As it stands, it seems likely that Sam Rainsy will try to take advantage of the situation to return to Cambodia, resume his political career and put more pressure on Hun Sen’s government.
The direction of Cambodia’s political development remains unclear amid talk of Sam Rainsy’s return and the possibility of senior CNRP officials returning to politics. Despite this uncertainty, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling elites hold the key to relieving the political deadlock and putting the deteriorating democracy back on track.
- Officials insist Thailand’s former leader Yingluck Shinawatra hasn’t been given a Cambodian passport
- So how she used one to register a company in Hong Kong is a mystery that points to the ‘highest levels’, observers say
Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Photo: AFP
The news that Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is in possession of a Cambodian passport poses a troubling question for many of her new-found compatriots: who gave it to her? The self-exiled leader, who fled Thailand in August 2017 before being sentenced to prison on what she says are politically motivated charges, used a Cambodian passport to register as the sole director of a Hong Kong company incorporated in August last year – as revealed by the South China Morning Post.
The red passport emblazoned with the words “Kingdom of Cambodia” in gold might not be what anyone would expect Yingluck Shinawatra, former prime minister of Thailand, to present at an immigration checkpoint.
With visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to just 54 destinations worldwide, it is ranked among the least powerful passports in the world by the annual Henley Passport Index, at a lowly No. 84 out of 104.
Officially, anyone with US$300,000 to spare can pick up a Cambodian passport. That is what Cambodia requests as an investment before handing out its travel document.
Yingluck, in self-exile since 2017, before Thailand’s supreme court sentenced her to five years in prison for mishandling rice subsidies, used a Cambodian passport to register herself as sole director of a Hong Kong company incorporated last August last year, according to official filings. The disclosure, in a South China Morning Post story this month, added to the theory that she fled Thailand via Cambodia.
It also put the spotlight on the ease with which the world’s wealthy can obtain new passports or residency in a new country if they have the cash it takes – anything between US$100,000 and US$2 million.
This can all be above board and properly regulated, with thorough screening of applicants. In some cases, however, getting a new passport has been said to be as easy as shopping online, and the individual does not even have to show up in person.
Some get new passports by bribing officials.
“For some investors, they want to move to somewhere else because they truly want to do business there,” said Benny Cheung Ka-hei, director of the Goldmax Immigration Consulting in Hong Kong. “But then of course, some of the rich Chinese have too much money to spare and have no problems spending a few million dollars on foreign passports. They want foreign passports as protection, and also for showing off.”
But Phnom Penh has denied that Yingluck holds a Cambodian passport and observers question whether there has been a royal decree conferring citizenship on her – something that is required of all other foreigners.
Mu Sochua, vice-president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, said she did not believe Cambodian officials’ claims they were not aware of Yingluck’s Cambodian passport.
“There are many, many issues in terms of legality and sovereignty as far as Cambodia is concerned … where is the royal decree? No citizenship can be issued without a royal decree, and to get a passport from any country, you need to be a citizen of that country,” said Sochua, who fled her own country in 2017.
Mu Sochua, vice-president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Photo: Reuters
Sochua demanded Cambodia’s strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen investigate.
“Isn’t he concerned that an ex-prime minister holds a passport of his country? And if he has not ordered it, then who has? Who ordered the passport to be issued?
“For Yingluck, an ex-minister of Thailand, I don’t think an official at the Ministry of Interior or the Foreign Ministry would dare to [issue it] – even if she wanted to buy it for a million dollars.”
Sochua believes Yingluck received the passport because of her ties with Hun Sen. Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, also a former prime minister of Thailand in self-imposed exile, used to be an adviser to the Cambodian government.
“The Thai junta government has collaborated with the Hun Sen regime in deporting Cambodian political asylum seekers to Cambodia. The question is: will the Thai junta ask Hun Sen to seek the deportation of Yingluck if and when she travels with the Cambodian passport?” added Sochua.
Sophal Ear, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at the Occidental College in Los Angeles, said the decision to grant Yingluck a passport must have come from “the highest levels” of the Cambodian government.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo: APRead More …
In his facebook page, Hun Sen has appeared fragile walking and standing to greet China’s private sectors and official top leaders in Peking during his 4 days urgent visit (January 20-24, 2019) after EU announced to tax Cambodia rice export in 3 years beginning this January 2019 in which Cambodia enjoyed its free tax previous years. Cambodia could loss 40 millions dollar per year from this taxing. While Hun Sen is departing for China, the regular Cabinet meetings was cancelled with order to send only security documents to his office while Phnom Penh city was seen by tanks, military armours, and his personal body guard unit mobilizing in an excuse to prepare a drill. Spectators convinced that by ranking and bureaucratic regulation, whenever Hun Sen is absent, the next person is Sar Kheng who is able to conduct regular business of the governance but the Cabinet’s order is totally opposite.
Frequent updating in his personal facebook page with “likes” hike up over 10 millions is to describe his successes in 600 millions loan and buying rice 40,000 tones, Chinese FDI investments, and increasing importing products from Cambodia etc., while the mainstream China’s news, contradictory, confirming the Xi’s intention to strengthening Cambodia’s consent to broaden Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and shared future strategic partnership. Note that Cambodia delegates have failed to inspire China to import rice from Cambodia as China has already promised to import Thailand’s trillion tones of rice to feed its people.
In Cambodia, 40 private sectors wrote letter to EU to express their concerns on the economic crisis if EU withdraws EBA from Cambodia. And the ASIA-EU Ministerial Meeting delegated by Cambodia foreign minister Prak Sokhonn met negative responses from both Didier Reynders and Cecilia Malstrom by emphasizing restoring back democracy, rule of law, and human rights respect in Cambodia if EBA’s withdrawal scheme should be halted.
Cambodia Faces Next Trade-Sanctions Move by the European Union
By Jonathan Stearns January 22, 2019, 8:59 AM PST Updated on January 22, 2019, 3:00 PM PST
- EU Commission seeks support from national capitals by Jan. 29
- Any decision to suspend tariff benefits still a year away
The European Union moved closer to imposing trade sanctions against Cambodia as a result of alleged human-rights violations in the country.
The European Commission in Brussels has asked EU national governments to give the green light by Jan. 29 for suspending a policy that lets Cambodia export all goods except weapons duty-free and quota-free to the bloc, according to two officials familiar with the matter. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are private.
Any go-ahead from EU national capitals would still leave a decision by the commission, the bloc’s executive arm, 12 months away. At stake is Cambodia’s place in the EU’s “Everything But Arms” initiative, the most generous part of the bloc’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences for poor countries around the world.
The EU is trying to prod changes in the political behavior of strongman Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen while being wary of damaging the country’s economy, where a $5 billion garment industry employs 750,000 people and is the biggest exporter.
Hun Sen, who extended his 33-year rule last July when his party won a boycotted election, has so far struck a defiant tone with the European side.
The latest internal EU preparations to withdraw commercial benefits for Cambodia follow a Jan. 21 meeting between European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn. The Everything But Arms — or EBA — accord featured in the talks.
“We discussed the EBA agreement and the possibility of a withdrawal of the tariff preferences,” Malmstrom said in a Twitter post after the meeting in the Belgian capital. “Reiterated our concerns on democracy, human rights and rule of law. The EU continues to keep the path of dialog open.”
The EU debate over revoking general trade benefits for Cambodia is separate from a decision by the bloc last week to impose tariffs on Cambodian rice for three years as a result of a surge in imports deemed to have hurt European rice producers.
— With assistance by Nikos Chrysoloras
Greater Sino-Cambodian effort sought for Belt, Road
Op-Ed: China Daily
By AN BAIJIE | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-22 01:28
China and Cambodia should speed up connecting the Belt and Road Initiative with Cambodia’s development strategy, President Xi Jinping said on Monday.Read More …