EU withdraws support for Cambodia election authority after opposition dissolved

Tang Chhin Sothy, AFP | Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) poses for selfies with supporters of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) on the last day of the commune election campaign in Phnom Penh on June 2, 2017.

The EU on Tuesday pulled support for Cambodia's election authority, questioning the legitimacy of upcoming polls after the dissolution of the opposition transformed the kingdom into a virtual one-party state under strongman Hun Sen.


A Supreme Court ruling last month dissolved the main opposition to the incumbent Cambodian People's Party (CPP) after Hun Sen intensified his attacks on them with elections looming next year.

In a statement the European Union described the ruling as arbitrary and said as a result the election "cannot be seen as legitimate".

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had won almost 45 percent of the vote in the 2013 national elections and nearly the same proportion in this year's local polls.

Its electoral success posed a threat to the 32-year rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who wants to press ahead with the elections despite international outcry over his assault on Cambodia's fragile democracy.

The EU said that the Supreme Court's decision and the subsequent reallocation of the opposition's national and local seats to other parties "denies the choice of those who voted for the party in the elections in 2013 and 2017".

Support provided by the EU to Cambodia's National Election Committee (NEC) includes funding for voter education materials, deployment of advisers, and assistance for a preliminary results management system.

National Election Committee deputy secretary-general Som Sorida expressed disappointment with the EU statement, but said other supporters, including Japan, South Korea, China and Russia remained in place.

In recent months, Cambodia's government has launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent and other perceived challenges to the regime, arresting CNRP leader Kem Sokha and sending dozens of lawmakers fleeing into exile to avoid a similar fate.

Hun Sen, who rose to power in the aftermath of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, has said he wants to remain in office for another decade or so.

Analysts say US President Donald Trump's hands-off approach to human rights issues paired with support from regional behemoth China have emboldened Hun Sen to throw off any pretence to democracy and turn Cambodia into a one-party state.

But while Hun Sen has praised Trump's no-nonsense style, Washington has also taken steps to censure Cambodia for its recent actions, putting visa restrictions on senior officials this month and withdrawing its own support for the country's election authority in November.

Hun Sen has doubled down his position and has yet to face any protests about his attack on the opposition and democracy.

On Tuesday he said that his government did the "right thing" in dissolving the CNRP, in comments clearly alluding to the party and its leadership but that did not mention them by name.

"Though the head was cut, the body was destroyed, but the bad intentions of those who stand behind them have not subsided yet," Hun Sen said, adding "we must keep a careful eye on them."


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