Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to help Cambodia with electoral reforms, following a request by Prime Minister Hun Sen to send experts to the country ahead of future polls and amid an ongoing dispute over national elections held more than three months ago.
The promise came as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which has boycotted parliament in protest against irregularities in the July polls, announced plans for a fresh mass demonstration next month.
Abe agreed to help with reforms during a two-day visit to Cambodia over the weekend, which was the first by a Japanese prime minister in 13 years.
He said Japan is willing to assist with “reform efforts” and resolving the post-election dispute through talks between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), according to a joint statement released at the end of his visit Sunday.
He told a press conference following bilateral talks with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen that he had “welcomed a request” from Cambodia to send experts to assist with reforms.
Call to speak out
Before Abe’s visit, global advocacy group Human Rights Watch had called on Japan to join other countries in publicly calling for an independent, internationally assisted investigation into irregularities in the July election.
Rights groups have said promises made since the last election by Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for nearly three decades, have been halfhearted and fall short of the sweeping changes needed.
Hun Sen said at the press conference with Abe that the appeal for electoral experts was the “first time” Cambodia had made such a request from another country.
“Cambodia has requested help from the Japanese government, including with election reforms. I requested Prime Minister Abe to consider dispatching experts to help with reform in the coming elections.”
“Japan is the first country we have requested because we think Japan is a mature democratic country full of election experience,” he said.
The joint statement said Abe had “announced Japan’s readiness to assist these reform efforts.”
“Prime Minister Abe expressed his expectation that the post-election situation will be normalized expeditiously through dialogue and cooperation among the parties concerned and nation-building advanced on the basis of national reconciliation,” it said.
Japan, which has provided more than U.S. $2.25 billion in development aid to Cambodia since 1992, also agreed to strengthen ties with the country in the areas of health, security, investment, and infrastructure, according to the statement.
New York-based Human Rights Watch had called on Abe last week to leverage his country’s aid to pressure the Cambodian government into launching an independent probe into fraud and other irregularities in the elections and to discuss the modalities for such an investigation.
The CNRP claims that election irregularities, including the removal of one million voters from the electoral rolls, resulted in the CPP robbing it of election victory.
The government-appointed NEC awarded the CPP 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55 in the election, but the CNRP claims it won at least 63 and has called for a U.N.-backed investigation and led a series of mass demonstrations against the results.
The CNRP will lead a fresh mass demonstration on Dec. 10, coinciding with Human Rights Day, party officials announced Monday.
A location has not yet been set for the protest, which could be held in the capital Phnom Penh—as with past demonstrations—or in a different province, CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said.
We can’t negotiate with the CPP anymore if we don’t have justice and the truth,” Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service.
The plan for the protest came amid stalled attempts to restart talks between the two parties, which last met in an attempt to resolve their row earlier this month. Those talks yielded little progress when the ruling party refused to discuss the possibility of an investigation into the allegations of poll fraud.
Cambodia-based political analyst Sok Touch said the demonstration plan was a fresh attempt to put pressure on the CPP to hold negotiations with the CNRP, urging the two parties to reach a solution to end the political deadlock.
“The country should not be pushed into a deep political crisis that can lead to bloodshed,” he said.
Aside from calling for an investigation into election irregularities, demonstrators will also be urging justice for victims of police shootings amid a violent clampdown on striking garment factory workers last week, Kem Sokha said.
One bystander was killed and some 10 wounded in shootings on the sidelines of the clampdown on the SL Garment Processing Factory workers in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.
Kem Sokha, who along with CNRP President Sam Rainsy visited victims of the incident over the weekend, said that police brutality in the clampdown was evidence of a lack of commitment to reform by Cambodia’s government.
“The government, which is led by the CPP, used brutal violence against factory workers.”
“The authorities killed [an] innocent [person] and also assaulted monks. This is showing that the CPP has not kept its promise for change,” he said.