Asia in Review Archive

Cambodia

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

18 September 2018

New Cambodian government enters office as Kem Sokha is released from jail

(ls) Cambodia’s lawmakers voted in a new parliamentary leadership and government, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) which won all 125 parliamentary seats in the 31 July elections. King Norodom Sihamoni, Cambodia’s head of state whose role is mainly symbolic, opened the parliamentary session, urging the country to “stand united and show strong national solidarity”. [Reuters 1] [The Straits Times]

Hun Sen’s eldest son, Hun Manet, was promoted to commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, the second most powerful position in the country’s military. He is also the head of the Defence Ministry’s anti-terrorism unit and deputy chief of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit, and he is seen as a possible successor to Hun Sen, who has been in power for 33 years. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, Kem Sokha, leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was released from jail on bail after spending more than a year in jail on treason charges, though a court extended his detention just a few days earlier, as AiR reported last week. Sokha was arrested and accused of treason last September as part of a government-led crackdown. In recent weeks, fourteen government critics were freed from jail in a move that several observers saw as as a means to appease foreign criticism of the election. [Reuters 2]

11 September 2018

New Cambodian government enters office as Kem Sokha is released from jail

(ls) Cambodia’s lawmakers voted in a new parliamentary leadership and government, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) which won all 125 parliamentary seats in the 31 July elections. King Norodom Sihamoni, Cambodia’s head of state whose role is mainly symbolic, opened the parliamentary session, urging the country to “stand united and show strong national solidarity”. [Reuters 1] [The Straits Times]

Hun Sen’s eldest son, Hun Manet, was promoted to commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, the second most powerful position in the country’s military. He is also the head of the Defence Ministry’s anti-terrorism unit and deputy chief of the prime minister’s bodyguard unit, and he is seen as a possible successor to Hun Sen, who has been in power for 33 years. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, Kem Sokha, leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was released from jail on bail after spending more than a year in jail on treason charges, though a court extended his detention just a few days earlier, as AiR reported last week. Sokha was arrested and accused of treason last September as part of a government-led crackdown. In recent weeks, fourteen government critics were freed from jail in a move that several observers saw as as a means to appease foreign criticism of the election. [Reuters 2]

4 September 2018

Cambodian former opposition leader’s pretrial detention extended by six months

(jk) As reported in last week’s AiR, several Cambodian activists and journalists have been released from prison. On Tuesday, a further 14 government critics were freed, seen by many observers as a continuation of an appeasement strategy by the Cambodian government after foreign criticism of a flawed general election last month.

Notwithstanding, a court decided Thursday to extend the pretrial detention of former opposition leader Kem Sokha, to whom the appeasement strategy does not seem to extent, by another six months. Sokha has been charged with treason. A trial date has yet to be set. [South China Morning Post]

28 August 2018

Release of Cambodian political prisoners displays government’s strategic clemency

(ls) After its landslide victory in July’s general election, which was marked as flawed and unfair by Western observers, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen demonstrates strategic clemency. Several Cambodian activists and journalists have been released from prison in recent days. King Norodom Sihamoni issued the pardons on the request of the prime minister.

The released included prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny (see last week’s AiR edition) and three of her colleagues, two former Radio Free Asia reporters who had spent more than nine months behind bars on espionage charges, and an opposition lawmaker of the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who was jailed in late 2016 over his criticism of Hun Sen’s government for using contested maps as a guideline to demarcating the border with Vietnam. [Radio Free Asia] [Straits Times] [South China Morning Post]

However, Kem Sokha, the former CNRP leader who is accused of treason, was denied bail by the Cambodian Supreme Court. After his arrest in September 2017, he has been held without trial for nearly a year. The abolition of the CNRP, which came close to winning the 2013 election, and which made unprecedented gains in nationwide local polls last summer, left Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party with only little opposition at the polls last month. [New York Times]

Analysts had predicted that Hun Sen could use pardons to help deflect criticism from the election. The pardons are based on political considerations and demonstrate the government’s awareness of domestic and international pressure. The no-pardon for Kem Sokha, however, also shows the limits of public clemency. Kem Sokha served as the minority leader of the National Assembly from December 2016 to January 2017 and previously as the First Vice President of the National Assembly from August 2014 to October 2015. He still enjoys widespread public support throughout Cambodia.

Meanwhile, the government’s surveillance of internet activities shows an increasingly chilling effect on public discourse. An Al Jazeera report describes how politically interested persons and activists partly revert to actual, physical meetings in order to evade state control. [Al Jazeera]

28 August 2018

Dams along the Mekong: What are the lessons learnt?

(ls) What will be the lessons learnt by last month’s deadly dam collapse in Laos? Despite an order by the Lao government to halt new dam investments, the developers of two hydropower projects move ahead with their construction plans. In response, a coalition of NGOs and community-based groups dedicated to raising public awareness about the risks associated with dams on the Mekong River announced to boycott the prior consultation process, saying that it will destroy the environment, ecosystems, and livelihoods of people in the region. [Radio Free Asia]

An in-depth report by National Geographic lays out the conflicting economic and environmental parameters. Apart from early Chinese developments, the Mekong has stayed undammed largely due to regional cooperation between the four member nations of the Mekong River Commission, which was established in 1995. Energy needs and the financial incentives of hydropower, however, caused Laos and later also Cambodia and Vietnam to launch several dam projects with widespread environmental and social implications. [National Geographic]

On the positive side, last month’s dam collapse in Laos has produced a collective effort to provide emergency relief, involving Laos’s neighbors Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, fellow ASEAN members, notably Singapore, as well as East Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea. Two commentaries by researchers of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, discuss the topic of regional responses to disasters in more detail. [RSIS 1] [RSIS 2]

21 August 2018

Cambodia: Spotlight on a prominent imprisoned human rights defender

(ls) In August 2016, Cambodian human rights defender Tep Vanny was arrested and detained after protesting against the imprisonment of a group of land rights workers known as the Adhoc 5. She was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison in February 2017 for “insulting and obstructing public officials”. An appeal was rejected later that year. The Southeast Asia Globe presents the timeline of the case which stands pars pro toto for the fate of human rights/land rights defenders and activists not only in Cambodia, but throughout numerous Southeast Asian countries. [Southeast Asia Globe]

7 August 2018

Cambodia: Militarisation of government continues and Hun Sen’s oldest son  

(jk) In the election last week, three of Cambodia’s most senior military figures ran for parliament for Hun Sen’s People’s Party. And of course, won. As quoted before in AiR, CPG Senior Research Fellow Dr. Paul Chambers stated on the growing militarisation of Cambodia’s leading party and the country’s leadership: “By fielding so many military candidates, the CPP can further tighten the nexus between itself and military leaders, giving the latter more of the political pie.” Now, with the result essentially in the bag, all three will be sworn in as parliamentarians later this month. Chambers holds that Hun Sen may well be looking to oversee a “camouflaged military autocracy” soon.

Another important military figure of particular interest is Hun Sen’s oldest son, Hun Manet. He, according to opposition figures, already controls the armed forces, Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, the military police, the secret police, the anti-terrorist unit and has made progression in his military career by filling the senior military ranks left by those who progressed into politics. By conflating military and politics more and more, Hun Sen is seen to also prepare his own succession in favour of his oldest son. To end, again with Chambers, it is possible that “after the end of Hun Sen, there would likely be a grouping of senior military with Hun Manet as a figurehead.” [SCMP]

31 July 2018

Cambodia: Results as expected in general elections

(ls) Sunday’s general elections in Cambodia produced the expected result. With the main opposition party dissolved last year, Prime Minster Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 77.5 percent of the votes, claiming all 125 parliamentary seats. Invalid votes accounted for a record-high 8.6 percent of votes cast (up from 1.6 percent in 2013). The National Election Commission reported a voter turnout of 80.49 percent (up from 69.61 percent in 2013), prompting the CCP’s central committee to declare that the “high voter turnout rate clearly illustrates the enthusiasm and political rights of the Cambodian people in strengthening a multi-party democracy”. [The Straits Times]

International observers from Western countries called the election “flawed” or a “sham”. In response to the results, the U.S. said it would consider steps, including an expansion of visa restrictions placed on some Cambodian government members. The European Union declared that the election did not represent the will of the people. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) pointed to intimidation of voters, the misuse of law and permanent changes to the country’s constitutional and legal framework. [Reuters] [The Nation]

The U.S. and the EU declined to send observers. Instead, a mix of populist and far-right party members from Europe and Asia served as monitors, including observers with ties to the UK Independence Party, Italy’s Fratelli d’Italia, a pro-government party in Belarus and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), among others. “All we see is people dancing on the streets of Cambodia,” said one member from India’s ruling BJP. [South China Morning Post]

Observers from Malaysia, Russia, Laos, India, Thailand and Vietnam claimed the elections were free, fair and transparent. The Phnom Penh Post reported that representatives from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, the Asian Parliamentary Assembly and the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly also congratulated the Kingdom for carrying out democracy and freedom. [The Phnom Penh Post]

In a move to control the public opinion, the Cambodian government ordered internet service providers to block the websites of 15 news websites of independent outlets two days before and during the country’s election. Last September, the independent newspaper Cambodia Daily was shut down by the government. The Phnom Penh Post is effectively under government control since May this year. [Voice of America]

24 July 2018

Cambodia: Prince and leader of main opposition party unlikely to run in election

(jk) With the former major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) dissolved, the Funcinpec Party is now the leading opposition party in Cambodia. The royalist party was of course involved in the request to dissolve the CNRP in the first place and is seen by many as an opposition party to Hun Sen in name only. In 2013, it only received just over 3.5% of the vote but now holds a larger number of National Assembly seats as it hugely benefitted from the CNRP’s dissolvement and the subsequent re-arrangement of seats in the assembly.

Cambodian Prince and former PM Norodom Ranariddh is the party’s candidate for PM and was supposed to run against Hun Sen, although with very little prospects. Now, it is doubtful that he will run at all after being involved in a sever car accident last month that killed his wife and left him seriously injured [The Phnom Penh Post]. After some speculation and calls for inquiries into whether or not the accident has been accidental [Voice of Asia], rumours had it that Norodom was not as seriously injured as first thought and ready to join the election campaign soon [Khmer Times].

Getting closer to the election date however, it now seems unlikely that Prince Norodom will be able to campaign or indeed run at all, and first reports are surfacing that his state is much more serious than admitted at first.

Whether he runs or not will hardly alter the outcome of the election, though some observers claim that Hun Sen would like an opposing candidate to at least carry on with the illusion there is a real democratic contest for leadership [South China Morning Post]. In the light of what has been going in Cambodia recently though, as reported here on AiR, this seems far-fetched. Hun Sen has not been overly concerned with appearing democratic or fair to his opponents.

17 July 2018

Cambodia: Developments before the July 29 elections

(ls) With the July 29 general elections in Cambodia coming up, the outlook in terms of democratic fairness and legitimacy remains bleak. Though, on paper, 20 parties will compete in the election, it would be heavily misleading to refer to the current Cambodian political system as a multiparty system. Rather, as the New York Times writes, the small parties (“fireflies”) function as a bad cover-up of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s one-party regime, in particular since the dissolution of the main opposition party. [The New York Times] Deutsche Welle has spoken with opposition politicians and journalists trying to do their job under problematic conditions. [Deutsche Welle]

That uncovering corruption is a dangerous activity in today’s Cambodia, is also the subject of a report by Mary Ann Jolley for Al Jazeera. She has talked to several members of the Cambodian community in Australia which is deeply fractured across political lines. Her report focuses on corruption allegations surrounding Cambodia’s Director General of Taxation, Vibol Kong, after the Hun Sen government targeted the country’s independent media by slapping them with tax bills in the millions. [Al Jazeera]

According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, and hardly surprising, Cambodian military officers, gendarmes, and police officers are actively campaigning for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), in violation of Cambodia’s law requiring political neutrality. HRW writes that senior members of the security forces have endorsed Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) at numerous public rallies and other events throughout Cambodia. [Human Rights Watch]

At the same time, the election also reflects geopolitical realities in Asia. Though the majority of Western countries, including the U.S. and the EU, refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the upcoming elections, Japan continues its silent support of the elections. Japan committed $7.5 million to the National Election Committee and pursues a less confrontational approach to the Cambodian government locally and internationally. As Darren Touch writes, the move is aimed at countering China’s growing influence in the region. After the withdrawal of U.S. and EU assistance, China lent its support in backing the upcoming election financially and diplomatically, which has caused unease in Tokyo. [The Interpreter]

Ahead of the elections, China for its part appears to have made use of clandestine cyber operations. According to a cybersecurity firm’s report, Chinese cyber spies have targeted Cambodian government institutions, opposition party members, diplomats and media, possibly to gather information ahead of elections. The cyber operations appear to have consisted mostly of gathering and downloading information, as there was no evidence of tampering. [Bloomberg]

3 July 2018

Cambodia: Hun Sen tightens grip on army and institutions, invites election observers from China and Myanmar

(ls) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son was promoted to two senior military posts as his father looks to widen his family’s influence and possibly build a political dynasty. Lieutenant General Hun Manet, was promoted to acting chief of joint staff and commander of army headquarters. He keeps his current roles as head of the Defence Ministry’s anti-terrorism unit and the deputy commander of Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit. [The Straits Times]

According to a Human Rights Watch report, senior members of Cambodia’s security forces have committed human rights abuses that benefited Prime Minister Hun Sen, including a crackdown on the opposition ahead of elections next month. The 12 police and army generals accused by the report are also long-standing members of the Central Committee of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). A defense ministry spokesman said the report was unfair and lacked evidence. [Reuters 1]

According to the report, Hun Sen was able to carry out the crackdown in less than six months without any backlash, because of his control over the 12 senior military and police commanders and their subordinates. Twelve different institutions, from the supreme court, to local courts and government ministries, were used to implement the crackdown. [The Guardian]

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) announced that 50,000 observers, including some from China, Myanmar and Singapore, will monitor the general election on 29 July, which is widely expected to be a landslide victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen after the main opposition party was dissolved last year. The NEC is reviewing applications from an additional 800 foreign observers from non-governmental organizations seeking to monitor the election. [Reuters 2]

26 June 2018

Cambodian Center for Human Rights – Fair Trial Rights in Cambodia before the Court of Appeal

(jk) In a publication of the Fair Trial Rights Project by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, the organisation examined the functioning of the judiciary in Cambodia with a particular focus on adherence to procedures and fair trial rights before the Court of Appeal. During the reporting period from November 2016 to October 2017, they found that while some fair trial rights are being adhered to, overall the respect for fair trials needs to be improved substantially. Among the main issues, the report cites a bias in the presumption of innocence as well as forced confessions and the right to legal representation or even presence of the defendant at a trial [CCHR Cambodia].

26 June 2018

Cambodia’s Elections and China’s defence minister’s visit

(jk) As reported over the past weeks the upcoming general elections will take place on 29 July. Hun Sen is trying to ensure victory after two close elections in 2013 and 2017 with numerous strategies such as cash pay-outs and a series of punishing measures against the opposition.

The opposition, clear-eyed about its prospects under current circumstances, has been repeatedly calling on voters to abstain from participating altogether, starting a “clean finger campaign”. The clean finger refers to the finger not dipped in ink during the voting protest. The government’s response was unsurprisingly that the campaign constitutes an obstruction of elections, which is punishable by law although voting is not mandatory in Cambodia [Channel News Asia].

China continues to support Hun Sen’s government and protect its investment in the country as it pledged more military aid as well as a Chinese naval visit next year during a five day visit by the Chinese Defence Minister. The two countries will also hold joint military exercises whilst Cambodia has put joint drills with other countries on hold [South China Morning Post]. Hun Sen’s, on his Facebook page, stated that the visit was “to implement any deals signed between the two countries, especially any deals brokered between Hun Sen and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the past, and especially to promote and deepen mutual military cooperation.”

Cambodian politician of the now dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party  and activist Mu Sochua talks in a recent interview on the state of democracy in Cambodia (hint: it’s dead!) and on Cambodian-Chinese relations [YouTube]. More on the development of the democracy in Cambodia and on many senior military officers running for political positions in the next election, CPG Senior Research Fellow Dr. Paul Chambers is quoted in a piece on growing militarisation of Cambodia’s leading party and the country’s leadership. “By fielding so many military candidates, the CPP can further tighten the nexus between itself and military leaders, giving the latter more of the political pie” [Asia Times].

17 June 2018

Cambodia: U.S. sanctions and upcoming national elections

(ls) The U.S. Treasury Department announced that it will sanction the commander of Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit for carrying out “serious acts of human rights abuse against the people of Cambodia.” The bodyguard unit, an elite force under the military with thousands of troops, is involved in internal security matters and has been linked to numerous crackdowns on the opposition. Cambodia’s democracy has been in increasing trouble in recent months, with Hun Sen dissolving the main opposition party and cracking down on independent media. [The Washington Post]

The upcoming general elections will take place on 29 July. Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 30 years, is trying to ensure victory after two close elections in 2013 and 2017 with cash inducements and a series of punishing measures against the opposition. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has also provided cash payments to members who make renewed pledges of allegiance to the party. Almost 2 million of 5.3 million registered CPP members didn’t vote in the national election of 2013. [Reuters]

However, with the major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), dissolved, there appears to be no real doubt that Hun Sen’s CPP will win the election. But a low turnout may still undermine his credibility. Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy has called for a popular uprising after the national elections to force a change of government. In response, the justice minister ordered to prosecute Rainsy under the new lèse majesté laws that criminalize criticism of the Cambodian king. [UCA News]

10 June 2018

Cambodia’s troop deployments to UN peacekeeping missions

(ls) Since 2006, Cambodia has sent more than 5,000 troops on UN peacekeeping missions. The country is currently the 32nd-highest contributor whereas it is only 72nd in terms of total population. Many Cambodians see it as a way of repaying the UN peacekeepers that once helped the kingdom as it emerged from civil war and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. However, more than one hundred Cambodian peacekeepers have lost their lives since 2006. Erin Handley and Mech Dara report in the [South China Morning Post].

10 June 2018

Cambodia & Vietnam: New cyber security laws likely to limit freedom of speech

(ls) With freedom of speech shrinking in several Southeast Asian countries, the main tool of state control remains to regulate the internet. In a move seen as a further attempt to control unwanted online messages, Cambodia’s entire domestic and international Internet traffic will soon pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) created by state-owned Telecom Cambodia. It will enable government minders to monitor and censor government critics and exert controls over Western business interests that face stiff competition from a rapidly expanding China. Freedom of speech has been under particular pressure in Cambodia with the closure of the Cambodia Daily and the purchase of the Phnom Penh Post by a Malaysian businessman with ties to Hun Sen’s government. [The Diplomat]

Under a new Vietnamese cyber security bill, which will likely come into effect on 15 June, service providers must take down offending content within 24 hours of receiving a request from the Ministry of Information and Communications or Ministry of Public Security. Further requirements prescribe that internet companies must store data locally (in Vietnam), “verify” user information, and disclose user data to authorities without the need for a court order. The law will make illegal the use of cyberspace to prepare, post, and spread information that “has the content of propaganda opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” or “offends the nation, the national flag, the national emblem, the national anthem, great people, leaders, notable people, and national heroes”. The bill’s measures have been summarized by [Human Rights Watch].

3 June 2018

Cambodia’s upcoming in elections

(jk) Cambodians will be asked to cast their vote at the end of next month. The upcoming election is fraught with problems, the EU and the US have withdrawn support for Cambodia over how political opposition and free news media is treated under long-time leader Hun Sen and a large number of countries has expressed concerns over how free and fair the elections will be. [The Star] With unwavering support from China and the recent developments in Malaysia however, is it likely that the PM feels he is doing everything right.

The main opposition party which still entertains some faint hopes of being reinstated before the election, is now facing the question of whether it is better or worse to boycott the whole election in the likely event that they stay banned. [The Interpreter] Former president of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy, urges Cambodians not to vote and believes that without any international recognition of the poll results, the PM will eventually lose his grip on power. [The Phnom Penh Post]

27 May 2018

Cambodia: US to put sanctions on Cambodian officials

(ls) Bipartisan legislation introduced in the US Congress to enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, has drawn the criticism of Cambodian government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), saying they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty of Cambodia”. The legislation would freeze assets, restrict all financial transactions with the US, and deny entry into the US all senior Cambodian government, military and security officials who US President Donald Trump determines have “directly and substantially undermined democracy in Cambodia”. [The Phnom Penh Post]

20 May 2018

Cambodia: First arrest using new royal insult law

(ls) A teacher has been arrested in Cambodia for allegedly insulting the monarchy in a comment posted on Facebook, the first such arrest since the country adopted a royal insult law earlier this year. The comments he made were allegedly critical of King Norodom Sihamoni, his father, late King Norodom Sihanouk and his half-brother Prince Norodom Ranariddh over their alleged role in the dissolution of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Those found guilty under the law face between one and five years in prison and a fine of between $500 and $2,500. [Reuters]

13 May 2018

Cambodia: Phnom Penh Post the latest victim in crackdown on free press

(ls) Two months before the Cambodian general election, The Phnom Penh Post, widely seen as the last bastion of a free press in Cambodia, has been sold to a Malaysian investor with ties to Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen. The investor is the chief executive of a public relations firm that has worked on behalf of Hun Sen. The sale comes about seven months after the government forced The Cambodia Daily to close over allegations that it had not paid millions of dollars in taxes. The Phnom Penh Post itself had owed $3.9 million in taxes, but that bill was settled as part of the sale. [The New York Times]

In less than a year, Cambodia has gone from having the freest press in the region to being one of the most repressive and dangerous places to be a journalist. In the 2018 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index published last month, Cambodia dropped 10 places from 132 to 142, and the country’s independent press was described as being “in ruins”. [The Guardian]

In August 2017, the government ordered the closure of 32 radio frequencies across 20 Cambodian provinces that had broadcast programs critical of the government, including Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA). RFA closed its office in Phnom Penh in September, after 20 years of operations in Cambodia. [Human Rights Watch]

Meanwhile, a Cambodian court on Thursday upheld the insurrection convictions of 11 members and supporters of the country’s now dissolved main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). The 11 members were jailed for terms ranging from seven to 20 years in 2014, after they forcibly tried to reopen the country’s only designated protest venue, “Freedom Park”, in July that year. [Reuters]

6 May 2018

Cambodia: Preparations for a deeply flawed election in July

(ls) Cambodia began registering political parties for the July 29 general election that is almost certain to extend the 33-year-old rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen after the Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition party. The National Election Committee (NEC) said Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was the first to register along with the little known, pro-government Cambodian Youth Party (CYP). Registration will end on May 14. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, another opposition party announced on Thursday that it will boycott the general election, saying it will not be free and fair. The Candlelight Party – previously the Sam Rainsy Party and a founding member of the now banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – said it will not take part in election. The CNRP, previously Cambodia’s main opposition party, was dissolved by a court order late last year as sought by Hun Sen. 118 former top CNRP members, including 55 former members of parliament, were banned from politics for five years. [Bangkok Post]

29 April 2018

Thailand/Cambodia/Laos: Cooperation to track down political enemies

(ls) Thai immigration police have detained Sam Serey, head of the Cambodian opposition group Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF). A Cambodian official said the government was in discussion with Thailand on the man’s extradition. In 2016, a Cambodian court sentenced Sam Serey in absentia to nine years in prison for plotting an attack. This month, Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Sam Serey and his group of plotting attacks in Cambodia, calling him a “traitor”. [Reuters]

In March, Thailand and Cambodia had agreed on cooperation in searching for “fugitives”. Concerns have formed about an authoritarian alliance of sort emerging between the ruling junta in Thailand led by Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen as they seek to suppress dissent and consolidate their authority at home, as Prashanth Parameswaran describes in [The Diplomat].

At the same time, the government of Laos has assured Thailand that Thai political fugitives in Laos will be kept under strict surveillance to prevent them from engaging in lèse majesté activities. The Chief-of-staff of the Lao People’s Armed Forces, on a visit to Thailand, added that “We [Thai and Laos people] are like siblings. (…) we have to help, love and respect each other. We also have to help preserve our traditional rituals and uphold Buddhism so it lasts forever.” [Bangkok Post]

22 April 2018

Facebook in SEA

(jk) News on Facebook this past week have much focused on its CEO’s testimony before the US congress. A lot is happening in Southeast Asia as well:

Authorities in Indonesia recently threatened to ban Facebook unless the company gets a handle on privacy and fake news. The government may be worried about fake accusations about President Joko Widodo’s alleged communist sympathies or collusion with China ahead of next year’s elections [Bloomberg]. Much like Zuckerberg in the US Congress, Facebook employees in Indonesia had to face tough questions from lawmakers [The Straits Times 1].

In the Philippines, where Facebook has appointed two online news platforms (Rappler, which continues to operate pending an appeal over its shutdown, and VERA Files) for a joint project to monitor and stop the spreading of fake news, its choice has been criticized by the government, alleging the selected news organisations are biased against President Duterte [The Straits Times 2]. The government also said it is investigating the social media firm over reports information from more than a million users in the Philippines was breached by British data firm Cambridge Analytica [Voice of America].

In Cambodia, Facebook is in the middle of a lawsuit (filed in California in February) by former leader of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy alleging that Prime Minister Hun Sen has used the social network to deceive Cambodia’s electorate as part of a broader campaign to destroy the political opposition and free media [Reuters].

Moreover, in Myanmar, Facebook was accused of facilitating the incitement of hatred and spreading hate speech during the genocide. A recent UN Fact-Finding Mission concluded that social media has played a “determining role” in the crisis [TechCrunch].

15 April 2018

Cambodia´s leader Hun Sen – its about legacy and charisma not democracy

(hg) Veteran Thai journalist Kavi Chongkittavorn provides an interesting (Southeast) Asian account on Prime Minister Hun Sen as a political leader.

Kavi claims that concern about his “legacy” is essentially driving Hun Sen, that his action “is not about power and wealth – as the international community thinks – but about how Hun Sen will be remembered by Cambodians”. They, the Cambodians, on the other hand, respond with regard to what might be translated as “charisma”, mian borami. The Khmer term designates “extraordinary people with supernatural powers to change things” and the one “who has earned respect, recognition and authority from years of work” with regard to the community.

Kavi concludes: “In the end, whatever Hun Sen has done, for good or for worse, it is aimed at increasing his borami. […] The main source of his power and legitimacy is borami, not, as the West thinks, liberal democracy.” [Myanmar Times]

Taking such a cultural account on politics is interesting for a number of reasons. First, Kavi´s observation points at a sort of cultural pattern to make sense of politics that extend far beyond the Cambodian case. The Thai language for instance uses a very similar term for largely the same concept (barami). Second, it might, however, be asked how ubiquitous such a culturally determined concept explaining political behavior of both the governing and the governed in Cambodia actually is. How much is it coming along with competing notions? After all, there may be different conceptions to make sense of politics that are competing which other even within one and the same person or organization. Important to ask would also the question, in how far competing conceptions of power can be authentically represented by one and the same voice with regard to different audiences. Practically interesting is especially in how far the cultural pattern described by Kavi are persisting on the side of the or some oppositional forces as well. Lastly, taking a perspective on the epistemic importance of concepts such as borami by means of empirical observation does not necessarily imply a normative claim that the substantial integrity of democratic processes would represent a misperception of political realities. As a matter of fact, electoral democracy is the normatively set mechanism to determine who is in power in Cambodia, irrespective in which currency power, legitimacy and representation are traded in the constitutionally defined political game. In any way, a perspective on cultural pattern of power offers highly important insight in the actualities of Cambodian politics and beyond. [Myanmar Times]

15 April 2018

Cambodia´s upcoming elections, Japan´s role and the China factor

(hg) The Cambodian elections scheduled for July 29 will be run without the oppositional Cambodia National Rescue Party of self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy. The party was banned November 2017 in an incraesingly repressive climate bringing the country closer to what could be called a de-facto one-party state run by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the world´s longest reigning Prime Minister, and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Sam Rainsy, on tour in Tokyo, has urged Japan, one of his nation’s biggest donors, to use its leverage to ensure that the elections will be democratic. While Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono has urged Cambodia to hold free and fair elections when visiting PM Hun Sen, he was not touching on the repressive, undemocratic environment in the kingdom.

In February, Tokyo announced an $7.6 million grant to Cambodia to support the elections  including Japanese-made ballot boxes and other election-related equipment, adding to the 12,000 ballot boxes that Japan donated for the 1998 elections. [Japan Today] Last week, Japan issued also a $90 million loan to fund electricity and other economic projects.

The Japanese support for both the government and the elections has caused mixed reactions. While the US and EU are highly critical with some countries leveling sanctions against Cambodia’s Hun Sen government, Japan is seen as keeping quiet on the increasing repression and instead throwing money behind a farce of elections. [The Diplomat]

Major reason for the Japanese stance is an ever advancing Chinese presence in the Indo-Pacific region with Cambodia being China´s closest ally in ASEAN.

15 April 2018

Cambodia and Vietnam following Malaysian example to fight ‘fake news’?

(hg) The Cambodian government is looking to draft a “fake news” law, after similar legislation has been introduced in Malaysia (see above). The announcement followed a meeting between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc during which the Vietnamese PM expressed concerns about ‘fake news’ coverage suggesting both countries should exchange information to cooperate on countering inaccurate news. [The Phnom Penh Post 1]

In Cambodian context, such a ‘fake news’ act would complement an array  of repressive means already taken to stifle media freedom and civil society opposition. [Deutsche Welle]

After one of the countries newspapers, the Cambodia Daily, had to close due to a $ 6.3 million tax bill, more than a dozen radio stations having been closed for allegedly violating their contractual obligations and Radio Free Asia having ceased in-country operations over tax and registration issues, media freedom in general is massively reduced already. [The Phnom Penh Post 1]

Now, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has again delayed a defamation trial against the Deputy Publisher of the closed Cambodia Daily. Background of the trial is a defamation case filed by the General Department of Taxation for alleging that the tax body had leaked a confidential document and that the $ 6.3 million tax bill was politically motivated.  [The Phnom Penh Post 2]

1 April 2018

Cambodia: Opposition remains dysfunctional ahead of elections

(ls) Former Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha is to remain in jail while awaiting his trial after the Appeal Court on Tuesday upheld the decision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to extend his pre-trial detention by an additional six months. Sokha, ex-leader of the now defunct Cambodia’s National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested in September 2017 and later charged with treason. [Channel News Asia]

The dissolution of the CNRP will not be discussed in meetings between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Kono next week. Japan has continued to support the upcoming national elections even as other democratic countries have pulled back assistance after the forced dissolution of the CNRP. CPG Senior Research Fellow Paul Chambers stated that, currently, any pressure from Japan regarding democracy and human rights in Cambodia is unlikely, suspecting that Japan might still hope that the political situation could be improved between now and the July election. [The Phnom Penh Post]

In a piece for the New Mandala, Michael Sullivan analyzes the influence of international actors on Cambodian politics since the 1990s. He argues that in 1997–98 Hun Sen and his regime were not held accountable for a bloody coup and that the international community legitimized flawed parliamentary elections, the outcome of which continues to create political instability and state sponsored violence today. [New Mandala]

25 March 2018

Cambodia: UN End of Mission statement, no improvement of Human Rights situation

(jk) The UN expert on the human rights situation in Cambodia, Professor Rhona Smith, has unsurprisingly expressed her serious concerns regarding restrictions on the media, freedom of expression and political participation ahead of the July national elections [UN End of Mission Statement].

After the closure of the newspaper Cambodia Daily, about which we reported in September last year, another major English newspaper has now been hit with a major tax bill. The reputable Phnom Penh Post is allegedly facing closure and might share the same fate as the Cambodia Daily did if they default on the payment as reported by some media outlets [UCA]. The paper states a contrasting view however, claiming the tax audit was “routine” and that the paper does not face closure [The Phnom Penh Post 1].

In Australia, where Cambodian PM Hun Sen recently visited for the Australia-ASEAN summit, the PM was met by an increasingly critical Cambodian diaspora, led by a Cambodian-born Australian lawmaker who is not shy about his views on the state of democracy and human rights in Cambodia [The New York Times].

A recent issue also picked up by the UN Special Rapporteur was the shooting by security forces at protesters on 8 March over a land dispute with a rubber plantation in Snuol district, Kratie province [The Phnom Penh Post 2]. The alleged human rights abuse here was investigated by the state but the police quickly ended the investigation clearing the security personnel [The Phnom Penh Post 3]. An independent investigation into the incident is unlikely and what exactly happened and how is difficult to ascertain. Whilst the official investigation found the allegations that security personnel had killed demonstrators to be untrue, Voice of Asia journalists who have interviewed villagers involved in the incident claim that a security force comprised of 150 police, soldiers and military police opened fire on hundreds of protesters, killing at least three. Furthermore, their investigation scrutinizes a link between a company involved in the incident and the family of PM Hun Sen [Voice of America].

25 March 2018

Dragon Gold: Cambodia – PRC joint military exercise

(jk) After the first instalment in 2016, the 2nd joint military drill between the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the  Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), “Golden Dragon 2018”, begun this week in Cambodia. The two-week military exercise is being conducted under the theme “Counter-Terrorism and Humanitarian Works”. Whilst Cambodia continues to deepen its relationship with China, US joint military drills have been postponed indefinitely last year, claiming it was too busy holding elections (!) [Reuters].

4 March 2018

Laos: Border dispute with Cambodia

(ek) Cambodia undertook live-fire weapons training sessions south of the border with Laos in the contested area OÁlay, in Stung Treng. The military exercise may be a demonstration of force prior to the upcoming elections in Cambodia. A spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Defense stressed, however, that there are no bilateral tensions between the two nations [The Phnom Penh Post].

25 February 2018

Cambodia: Pretty prisons for wealthy inmates

(ls) Cambodia’s chronically overcrowded prisons soon are to find relief by “outsourcing” the correctional facilities of wealthy inmates. According to recent plans, inmates could pay to use the facilities, which would have much higher standards than typical Cambodian prison cells, where numerous inmates often share a single latrine and ailments like nutritional deficiencies, abnormal physical weakness, diarrhea and scabies are common. Critics say, allowing prisoners with disposable incomes to live more comfortable lives was concerning and would make existing informal economic divides in the prison population official. [The Phnom Penh Post]

25 February 2018

Cambodia: Germany ends preferential visa treatment for Hun Sen’s family and high-ranking officials

(ek) With the end of the preferred visa grant, Germany responds to the fact that the Cambodian government has banned its political opposition and depressed media und NGOs. The German government made clear that the dismantling of democracy and human rights in Cambodia cannot remain without consequences. On February 26, the European Union will decide on potential actions regarding Cambodia. In December, the EU had suspended funding for Cambodia’s 2018 general election because it did not view an election without a main opposition party as legitimate [The Phnom Penh Post].

18 February 2018

Cambodia: Parliament adopts lèse-majesté law

(ls) Cambodia’s parliament on Wednesday unanimously adopted a law that forbids insulting the monarchy. Those found guilty would face between one and five years in prison and a fine of between $500 and $2,500. Rights groups said they feared the new law could be used to target critics of the government. Prosecutions under a similar Thai law have risen since the 2014 coup and critics of the junta say it has been used as a means to silence dissent. [Reuters]

4 February 2018

Cambodia: Draft legislation on access to public information unveiled

(ls) A proposed access-to-information law more than a decade in the making was unveiled to the public in Phnom Penh. The Ministry of Information and Unesco led the drafting of the law, which enshrines the public’s right to access information held by Cambodia’s public institutions. However, critics argue that the draft law declares as confidential too many categories of information and that it gives the “officer in charge of information” the responsibility to define and classify confidential information. As with many other pieces of legislation, enforcement is likely to be a major challenge. [The Phnom Penh Post]

26 January 2018

Cambodia: Is the opposition splitting?

(ls) Cambodia’s detained opposition party leader Kem Sokha has declined to join a new movement, the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), founded by prominent exiles (see last week’s AiR edition). Kem Sokha still con-siders that he is still with the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which received more than 3 million votes in recent elections, but which was banned by a court ruling last year. It appears that the opposition is beginning to split, which would benefit incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen in the upcoming elections this year. [South China Morning Post]

19 January 2018

Cambodia: How will Hun Sen respond to new opposition movement?

(ls) The former leader of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy, has an-nounced the formation of a new movement, the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM). Currently, CNRM members include Mr. Rainsy, his wife Saumura Tioulong, and two former deputy presidents of the CNRP. Rainsy said that the movement would be organized as a secret network. Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced that the government will investigate whether the movement is legal. [Khmer Times]

Rainsy also called for a postponement of the July election, at which Prime Minister Hun Sen is expected to easily ex-tend his 33 years in power. “This would avoid both violence and Cambodia becoming a pariah state,” he added. [Reuters] In an apparent reference to the protests foreshadowed by the newly announced CNRM, also Prime Minis-ter Hun Sen issued a warning that there could be no elections in a “chaotic country”. [The Phnom Penh Post]

5 January 2018

China-Cambodia relations: Beijing support upcoming general elections

Ahead of Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Phnom Penh next week, China’s foreign minister voiced confidence that the July’s general elections in Cambodia will be free and assured electoral aid. The United States and the European had withdrew their support following the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November at the government’s request [Reuters].

29 December 2017

Cambodia: Lèse-majesté?

(jk) Cambodia’s government is considering im-plementing lèse-majesté laws similar to the law in Thailand and a number of other countries, which criminalises criticism of the monarchy. The discussion comes at a difficult time for free speech and human rights in Cambodia with PM Hun Sen tightening his grip on power and sti-fling his opposition.

22 December 2017

Cambodia: Pre-election skirmishes

After the Supreme Court has dissolved the only opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), at the request of the government, on grounds that it was plotting to seize power, the United States and European Union announced they would suspend funding for the 2018 elections. Continuing his anti-Western line ahead of the 2018 elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen mockingly encouraged the United States and European Union to freeze the assets of Cambodian leaders abroad in response to his government’s crackdown on the opposition and civil society. For a neat description of the opposition’s increasingly precarious position see.
While China, Cambodia’s largest aid donor, has went on to lend its support to the Hun Sen government, the government has shut down 330 print media outlets supposedly “inactive” print media with 388 ‘functioning newspapers’ remaining.
The government’s stance received discursive support from a seminar of the Cambodia’s Royal Academy following the mentioned party dissolution whose main message was the claim that US democracy would not suit Cambodia.

22 December 2017

China-Cambodia relations: Chinese-language schools pushing soft power

With Chinese – Cambodian ties getting steadily closer the market for Mandarin language education is significantly expanding with the support of local branch of the Confucius Institute (CI) with its network of language schools in more than 140 countries. The local CI works in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Cambodia but has also supported the set – up of a “Mandarin Center” at the Ministry of Defence in July reflecting the Cambodian dependency from Chinese weapon deliveries. Requests for Chinese language education have however, also come from at least seven other ministries reflecting a shift to a singular position of Chinese language education in the country as avenues to spread Chinese soft power [Reuters].

22 December 2017

US bombing of Cambodia in the Vietnam War and its legal justification

The article reveals how the USA legally justified the bombing of Cambodia as a third party in the Vietnam War by an extension of the term self-defense which would become increasingly important in justifying US American intervention abroad afterward [New York Times].

15 December 2017

Muted UN statement on human rights in Cambodia versus realities of opposition

A recent statement by the UN Special Rappor-teur on human rights in Cambodia mentions some of the concerning developments of late, but fails to really call out the seriously deterio-rating human rights situation in the country. An interview with an active opposition-in-exile poli-tician of Cambodia’s National Rescue Party speaks more to the concerns of many democrati-cally inclined observers.

15 December 2017

EU in SEA: EU to re-establish political ties with the Thailand, scraps funding for elections in Cambodia

The European Council has agreed to gradually resume all political and economic engagement with Thailand. It reiterated its call for “restoration of democratic process” and “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms” in a press release after the decision came early this week and cited as a major factor in the decision the Thai authorities’ statement that elections will be held at the end of next year. The EU still upholds its “yellow card” it has issued when it alleged that Thailand is not doing enough to regulate illegal fishing practices but both sides see a major opportunity now to resume talks on the free trade agreement that have been put on hold after the coup in 2014 [Council of the EU] [Bangkok Post]. With regards to Cambodia, the EU has decided to cancel all funding for the upcoming general election in 2018 as it was decided that under the current circumstances, a credible election cannot be expected [Reuters].

1 December 2017

Democracy clock set back to zero

Roughly 25 years after the United Nations took over the administration of Cambodia – organizing the country’s first democratic elections in 1993 – the ruling party has succeeded in what many analysts and international observers have called the complete dismantling of the country’s democracy. Now, historians and analysts say the attempt to shoehorn democracy into Cambodia was always naïve. Also, former opposition Deputy President Mu Sochua pointed out that donors let the ruling party get away with too much for too long. Ben Paviour argues that the powerplay in Cambodia has its roots in the Cold War Era, referring to the 1980s, when U.S.-backed forces tried to root out the Vietnamese-installed regime Hun Sen eventually led. Paviour points out that his skepticism of U.S. motives continued after his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) converted to nominal democracy and capitalism in the early 1990s. David Hutt points out that the CNRP’s success or failure ought not to have become synonymous with democratic hopes in Cambodia. He draws a comparison with the events in Myanmar to demonstrate what happens when democratic aspirations become solely concentrated in the fate of one party: that party might get into power and show itself to be not-so-democratic after all. In the meantime, Prime Minister Hun Sen seeks more aid and investment from China during a visit this week. Hun Sen attends a special summit held by the Communist Party on a theme espoused by Chinese President Xi Jinping on “turning the world for the better and without interference”.

24 November 2017

A defiant Hun Sen and a dissolved CNRP

If there still was one electoral threat to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the upcoming elections scheduled for July 2018, this threat has now disappeared. After a long list of changes made to electoral and other laws recently in order to stifle the opposition, the Supreme Court, presided over by a judge who himself is a senior party member of the CPP, has ruled to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and ban its senior officials from political activity for five years. Earlier this year, former CNRP leader Kem Sokha was accused of plotting with “foreign powers” to overthrow the government. The US has now announced it will cut its funding for the election after the Supreme Court decision, which amid growing investment from China, let the PM unimpressed. Hun Sen in the meantime, goes back to common election strategies of his party, handing out cash envelopes to potential voters and promising popular reforms. Two Cambodian journalists working for US-supported Radio Free Asia were charged with espionage, exemplifying the ever-worsening trends in the country.

17 November 2017

Opposition party dissolved by Supreme Court

Cambodia’s Supreme Court has ordered the country’s main opposition party be dissolved. The government accused the Cambodia National Rescue Party of involvement in a plot to topple the government. The dissolution may result in over 100 politicians getting banned from office for five years. The verdict is seen as the latest move by Prime Minister Hun Sen to remove threats to his power ahead of elections next year [The Telegraph].

17 November 2017

Cambodia: China helps with internet governance as online controls tighten

Cambodia and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on e-commerce cooperation on Friday, by which China will provide technical advice to help boost e-commerce in the kingdom. According to an official statement released by the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, the agreement is an important element of the government’s “rectangular strategy” and a component of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative [Khmer Times]. Meanwhile, the Cambodian government has stepped up efforts to curtail online freedom of expression and political opposition. A pending cybercrime law is raising concerns about legal limits on what users are allowed to post on the internet, as charges of sedition and defamation are already used to silence dissenters [Voice of America].

10 November 2017

Cambodia: China helps with internet governance as online controls tighten

Cambodia and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on e-commerce cooperation on Friday, by which China will provide technical advice to help boost e-commerce in the kingdom. According to an official statement released by the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, the agreement is an important element of the government’s “rectangular strategy” and a component of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative [Khmer Times]. Meanwhile, the Cambodian government has stepped up efforts to curtail online freedom of expression and political opposition. A pending cybercrime law is raising concerns about legal limits on what users are allowed to post on the internet, as charges of sedition and defamation are already used to silence dissenters [Voice of America].

3 November 2017

Political clampdown continues, but with possible side effects for allied China

A top Cambodian court rejected an appeal to free opposition leader Kem Sokha on Tuesday saying his release could be a public risk as the threat of dissolution looms over his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Kem Sokha was arrested in September on charges of treason in what his supporters say is a politi-cally-motivated case. It comes amid a crack-down on critics of authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who could face the biggest electoral challenge of his political career in a general elec-tion next year. However, the continued clamp-down may also threaten the interests of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s closes ally, China. Devel-opment aid cuts by the US and the EU, Cambo-dia’s largest trading partners, and possible eco-nomic sanctions on the Southeast Asian nation could also harm Chinese export-oriented firms operating in Cambodia.

28 October 2017

Ex-deputy PM flees after threat

A former Deputy PM of the royalist Funcinpec has fled the country after Prime Minister Hun Sen has threatened to file lawsuits against him for disparaging the King and accusing the government of bribing [The Phnom Penh Post].

28 October 2017

Cambodia facing mixed reaction from the international community

Amid Cambodia’s democratic crisis, Singapore’s foreign minister has visited Phnom Penh this week seeking to improve bilateral (economic) ties [Khmer Times], while  some western countries reconsider their ties with Cambodia, such as Sweden [Channel News], Australia [ABC], or the US [Radio Free Asia].

20 October 2017

Return of opposition chief could herald more active politics

Bangladesh’s opposition leader, former prime minister Khaleda Zia, returned home on Wednesday to a rapturous welcome from her supporters after more than three months away for medical treatment in Britain [Channel NewsAsia].

20 October 2017

What went wrong with Cambodia’s opposition party

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) took years to form but weeks to fully unravel. Ben Paviour takes note of the current crackdowns on the party and draws attention to possible strategic errors on the part of the CNRP, such as the July 2014 compromise that ended the opposition’s months-long boycott of the National Assembly, internal divisions around the party’s two leaders as well as a lack of effective defense against claims of Western conspiracy [The Diplomat].

13 October 2017

More law amendments in expectation of CNRP dissolution

After changing the law on political parties twice this year, the ruling CPP is amending further political laws ahead of the general elections next year. This time, it appears to “weaken” its position however, as the amendments will change the allocation of opposite CNRP’s seats after a dissolution of the party which is currently discussed to the detriment of the ruling CPP. Opposition and human rights watchers allege ulterior motives. Reuters reports on the worsening tensions between the Cambodian PM and the US amid the strain that is put on Cambodia’s opposition leaders and MPs, half of which have fled the country.

6 October 2017

Human rights violations under scrutiny by UN Human Rights Council

In passing its biannual resolution on Cambodia, the UN Human Rights Council took the addi-tional step of authorizing the preparation of a special report on the country. In the light of re-cent crackdowns on the opposition and the me-dia, with half of the opposition Cambodia Na-tional Rescue Party’s sitting lawmakers currently overseas [The Phnom Penh Post], the UN Spe-cial Rapporteur on Cambodia informed the HRC that efforts to undermine democratic institutions have reached an unprecedented level in Cambo-dia [The Online Citizen]. Also, at the UN Hu-man Rights Council, a group of 39 countries has raised “serious concern” regarding the human rights situation in the Philippines amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In a joint state-ment released in Geneva, a group of European nations, Australia, the US and the UK empha-sized that the Philippines needs to investigate all killings, combat a climate of impunity, and pro-tect human rights defenders [Asian Correspondent]. At the same time, the Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines has offered to protect police officers who want to come forward and testify about their participation in President Rodigo Duterte’s war on drugs. The protection offer could escalate an emerging clash between the church and the government [The New York Times].

6 October 2017

Rising contenders in Asia: India and China

Within Asia the rising powers India and China are competing for dominance manifest in efforts  to assert own’s position vis-a-vis the other across the region and beyond. Military exercises in Djibouti (South China Morning Post I) and a research vessel’s month-long presence in the Pacific Ocean southeast of US territory Guam express China’s ambitions as global player once more. While the US considers the research expedition as directed towards the future build-up of a military base on the island country of Micronesia (South China Morning Post II), India is concerned about the conduct of the first live fire exercise at the Djibouti base. Besides increasing her presence in the region around the Indian Ocean, China continues to advance its influence in Southeast Asia, where Laos and Cambodia are China’s closest allies. However, their respective relation with China differs.  While Laos appears to be savvy in navigating the tricky diplomatic waters and faces less risk of “over-reliance” on China, whereas the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said his country is China’s “most trustworthy friend” (Myanmar Times). On the other side, two Indian Navy warships made a goodwill visit to the Philippines this week. The visit, a manifestation of PM Modi’s “Act East Policy”, was boost for bilateral ties and part of commemorations under way marking 25 years of partnership between India and ASEAN. The Indian ships sailed from to visit Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Brunei, and Russia (The Diplomat). Meanwhile, U.S. defence secretary Jim Mattis said that there was a strategic convergence, a “generational opportunity” between the two largest democracies in the world to work together, based on shared interests of peace, prosperity and stability in the region (Times of India I). Furthermore, during the six days long visit of India’s Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Naval Staff to Vietnam, both countries expressed their strong determination for intensify their strategic partnership and security cooperation (Vietnam News). This meeting comes at a time in which Vietnam is stepping up efforts to build up a robust self-defense on the country’s maritime features in the South China Sea (China Policy Institute: Analysis) while India tries to position itself a regional power to counter not only China’s strategic influence in Southeast Asia (Times of India II), but also its soft power and cultural influence (New York Times).

29 September 2017

Opposition leader remains in jail

The Cambodian Appeal Court upheld a lower court decision not to free a Cambodian opposi-tion leader or to grant him bail. The Cambodian National Rescue Party leader currently awaits trial on treason charges but no date for the trial has been set with elections coming up next year.

29 September 2017

China and Southeast Asia ever closer: Different intensity and levels of cooperation – similar trend?

Cambodia: Amidst a global power struggle between two major powers in a multipolar world, Cambodia is hedging its bet but is leaning closer and closer to China. China is “backing up” Cambodian elites in power, invests heavily in the country and will further benefit from a “declining west” (Khmer Times). PRC investments are seen to meet the country’s needs more than other international banks and organisations and political realities in Cambodia today favour an embrace of China (ISEAS).

Malaysia: Malaysia-China ties have been deeping in recent years, they include arms-sales, investment, information-sharing and other diplomatic engagements. While some MPs in Malyasia are critical of this, the contrast between the treatment PM Najib experiences in China compared to his rather informal visit to the White House recently, is striking (Free Malaysia Today). Kuala Lumpur has also just deported 29 Uighurs who will now face prosecution in China (The Strait Times).

Singapore: As ties between Singapore and China seem to be warming up again and with the Singaporean PM’s visit to China last week, some analysts see the end or at least suspension of the military training arrangement between Singapore and Taiwan called “Starlight Project”. The decade old cooperation has long been bothering China but is important to Singapore which has only very limited airspace (SCMP 1). Other analysts point to remaining differences likely to dominate the PRC-SP relationship, in particular the South China Sea (SCMP 2).

22 September 2017

With close ties between Beijing and Phnom Penh, the EU and US search for leverage

Having spent billions of dollars promoting a sta-ble, nominally democratic Cambodia, the United States and the European Union are currently witnessing how their investments become in-creasingly futile: The opposition leader was ar-rested, major newspapers and NGOs were forced to stop their operations. David Boyle discusses possible scenarios how the EU and the US might regain influence in the country which, under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, has estab-lished close ties with China.

15 September 2017

Does China announce support for crackdown on opposition?

After Cambodia has cracked down on the opposition ahead of next year’s elections on various fronts including the recent arrest of the leader of the parliamentary opposition, the international reaction is interestingly split with the US, EU, Australia, and UN condemning it while a Chinese representative, the vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, akin to an upper house in the Westminster system, reportedly announced support.

7 September 2017

Ongoing government crackdown on opposi-tion and free press amidst growing tensions with US

The leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party was formally charged with treason on Tuesday, after being accused by the country’s authoritar-ian government of plotting to overthrow its lead-ers with the backing of the United States. The charge comes amid a wider crackdown on dis-sent ahead of parliamentary elections next year (New York Times). After imminent threats of closure and legal action over a disputed $6.3 million tax bill, the English-language newspaper Cambodia Daily ceased operations on Monday.

7 September 2017

Tribunal prosecutors at odds over genocide case

The international co-prosecution at the Khmer Rouge tribunal has argued that the former Khmer Rouge official Ao An (“Ta An”) should be tried for genocide and other crimes against humanity whereas the Cambodian prosecutor is against an indictment in order to expedite the current case against the deadly regime’s second-in-command Nuon Chea and its head of state Khieu Samphan.

31 August 2017

Land eviction on land of Hun Sen’s daughter

More than 400 families have been ordered to remove their homes built on land owned by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter on last Sun-day with a deadline of next Tuesday to comply.

24 August 2017

Targeting NGOs and the opposition

Government-aligned news media published a raft of anonymous letters and articles criticizing US founded NGOs of supporting misinformation to create uncertainty and confusion. Some months ago, government officials responded to a leaked training for the major oppositional party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), by accusing the supporting NGOs to assist the opposition intending to overthrow the govern-ment. Against the backdrop of the recent ‘Law on Associations and NGOs’, some of the coun-try´s most renowned NGO have come under pressure including summons by the tax admini-stration [The Phnom Penh Post]. Meanwhile, King Norodom Si-hamoni left the country on Sunday just as he was expected to be called to sign some amendments to the ‘Law on Political Parties’ after the CNRP has asked the king to avoid the endorsement while the legislation is under review by the gov-ernment-stacked Constitutional Council. Bidding literally farewell to the King at the airport, Prime Minister Hun Sen and other core members of the ever governing Cambodian People’s Party main-tained that the king was not making a political statement by leaving. The legislative revisions bar political parties from consorting with anyone convicted of crimes like CNRP party leader Sam Rainsy [Cambodia Daily]. The constitutional role of the King in Cambodian constitutional politics, who has called upon voters “not (to) be concerned about oppression, threats or intimidation by any-body” in the run-up to the June communal elec-tions, is addressed in an instructive background article by High Privy Councillor to the King Son Soubert [CPG Online].

18 August 2017

Political Rights Under Pressure

Two articles shedding light on the current situa-tion of human rights in Cambodia. The first link contains a research report conducted by human rights NGOs that reveals that, despite a basically solid legal framework which meets international standards, infringements of fundamental rights continue to occur in Cambodia, due to misappli-cation of law and recent legislation containing restrictions on the exercise of rights and free-doms. The second link leads to a ruling of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in which analyst Kim Sokhas been sentenced to 18 months for defamation of Hun Sen and stirring up public disorder. Rights groups view this decision as a further testimony to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s usage of the judiciary to intimidate political op-ponents and silence critical voices to secure his re-election next year.

11 August 2017

Ministry Says Most NGOs Ignore Govern-ment Requirements

According to information of the Cambodian Ministry of Interior, only 4% of domestic NGOs have provided banking details to which they are obliged under the country’s Law on Associations and NGOS.

11 August 2017

Cambodia Orders Expulsion of Christian Charity Fighting Sex Trafficking After CNN Report

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Shen has or-dered the shut down of Agabe International Mis-sions (AIM), an American Christian anti-trafficking NGO, over a CNN report about AIM’s rescue of girls sold by their mothers to sex-traffickers.

11 August 2017

Portrait of a grass-root newcomer in Cambodian politics

Portrait of one of Cambodia´s most prominent political and right activists Thep Nanny who cur-rently is still arrested for “insulting a public offi-cial” after she has lost her appeal.

4 August 2017

The governing CPP’s Election Strategy in Minister´s account – Cash, Power, Beatings

Far from an official government issued state-ment, but striking nonetheless, one of Hun Sen’s cabinet members was allegedly citing the PM on his election strategy for 2018. According to the minister, Cambodian authorities will not react lightly to potential protests surrounding the elec-tions.

27 July 2017

Cambodia: Party Law Sails Through; SRP Mulls Name Change

The constitutional council has ruled a number of amendments to the law on the political parties in Cambodia constitutional after the opposition had claimed it wasn’t and lamented that it is directed at the main opposition party and its de facto leader in exile Sam Rainsy.

21 July 2017

Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Mission Accomplished?

With the Cambodian Khmer Rouge Tribunal coming to an end, it is time to take stock of what has been achieved. The tribunal has been strongly criticised since its onset but proponents have highlighted key achievements.

18 July 2017

Democracy in Cambodia: Party Law Changes by Government Party

The space for opposition in Cambodia keeps get-ting tighter as the National Assembly passes more changes to the Law on Political Parties. Contradictory to CPP claims, the rules and regu-lations are perceived to be directed at the CNRP and their former leader in exile Sam Rainsy.

16 July 2017

CPP Passes More Party Law Changes in Assembly

The space for opposition in Cambodia keeps get-ting tighter as the National Assembly passes more changes to the Law on Political Parties. Contradictory to CPP claims, the rules and regu-lations are perceived to be directed at the CNRP and their former leader in exile Sam Rainsy [Cambodia Daily].

7 July 2017

BOC extends yuan presence in Cambodia, but greenback is king

China remains Cambodia’s largest donor country but the Yuan has a long way to go to replace the USD as the currency of choice in the country. Trade volume still lags behind the volume of that with the US and the EU and dollarization remains high at over 80%.

30 June 2017

Khmer Rouge Trial, Perhaps the Last, Nears End in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge tribunal that began proceedings in 2006, concludes its hearings in genocide trial after another lengthy trial comes to an end. Finding a verdict is still months away however. Cost, efficacy and prosecutions of the tribunal have long been a controversial topic in Hun Sen’s Cambodia.

30 June 2017

Cambodia ruling party big winner in local elections

Sunday saw the official local election results released in Cambodia where the ruling party of PM Hun Sen expectedly emerged as the strongest party.