The question of political space and democracy was raised during an over-the-weekend meet between Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and Australian Senator Scott Ryan.
Mr Ryan, who attended the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Siem Reap last week, held talks with Mr Sokhonn at his office in Phnom Penh on Saturday.
Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann told reporters after the meeting that the question was raised by Mr Ryan, who is also president of the Australian Senate..
“His Excellency Prak Sokhonn responded by informing Mr Ryan of the election results, the creation of the Supreme Consultative Council and the recently amended Law on Political Parties, which paved the way for 118 former opposition leaders to return to politics,” Mr Sophann said. “So now the ball is on their side of the pitch – it’s up to the former opposition leaders whether they want to make a pardon request or not. It is their right.”
The Supreme Consultative Council was created after the Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 National Assembly seats last year to serve as a forum for 16 out 20 political parties who participated in the election.
The council is tasked with submitting petitions to the Senate over draft laws adopted by the National Assembly and providing opinion to the Prime Minister for any injustice or abuses by officials.
“His Excellency told Mr Ryan there were differing opinions on last year’s national election, but it cannot be denied that the election was peaceful and transparent,” Mr Sophann said, noting that regardless of the differing of opinions, Australia is still considered “a trust worthy friend”. “His Excellency Scott Ryan clarified that the Australian government will continue to cooperate with Cambodia in all sectors, especially in education and tourism.”
Additionally, Mr Sophann said Mr Sokhonn is scheduled to attend the upcoming Asean-EU Foreign Ministerial Meeting in Brussels, Belgium today.
He added that Mr Sokhonn will meet with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström to also discuss the status on democracy in Cambodia.
“She [Ms Malmström] will be informed by the minister about the measures our government has taken, and will take, to ensure political space, press freedom and labour rights,” Mr Sophann said. “Previously, we addressed some concerns raised by the EU, and His Excellency Mr Sokhonn will do further explanation.”
According to a Foreign Affairs Ministry statement issued Thursday, Mr Sokhonn was invited to attend by EU commission vice president Federica Mogherini.
“During the AEMM, Asean Foreign Ministers and their EU counterparts will discuss various areas of cooperation of common interest in order to achieve the shared values of peace, stability and prosperity,” Mr Sophann said.
During his stay in Brussels, Mr Sokhonn is to hold separate bilateral meetings with Belgian politician Didier Reynders and Ms Malmström, among others.