The European Union has suspended funding for Cambodia’s 2018 general election, saying the vote cannot be credible after the dissolution of the main opposition party, according to a letter sent to the National Election Committee yesterday.
The opposition CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court last month after the arrest and jailing of its leader Kem Sokha for alleged treason.
“An electoral process from which the main opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded cannot be seen as legitimate,” the letter to the NEC said.
“Under these circumstances, the European Union does not believe there is a possibility of a credible electoral process.”
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the EU provided $6.7 million to the NEC for 2016 and 2017 operations, but claimed yesterday’s withdrawal of funds will not affect next year’s general election.
“Despite suspension from the EU, the process of the election for 2018 will still go ahead,” he said.
“We have financial allocation from the national budget.”
Since the dissolution of the CNRP, western countries have threatened to cut off electoral aid and assistance to the government, but several friendly countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and Russia continue to support the electoral process.
The EU and Japan are the biggest donors to Cambodia’s election commission, which is in theory independent.
Asked if Japan would also suspend aid for the election, the Japanese embassy said it would continue to give assistance for electoral reform and would monitor the situation closely.
“It is of utmost importance to have next year’s national election reflect the will of the Cambodian people,” Hironori Suzuki, a counsellor at the embassy, told Reuters by email.
The United States last month said it would suspend funding for the election. It later said it would impose visa sanctions on those involved in the government’s actions to undermine democracy.
The EU in October warned Cambodia it could face EU action over duty-free access it enjoys under a deal for some of the world’s poorest countries if the nation’s human rights situation deteriorates further.
Cambodia’s biggest donor and investor is now China, which has voiced support for the opposition crackdown, saying it supports government efforts to ensure stability and economic development.
Sam Sokuntheamy, executive director of elections watchdog NICFIC, said the EU also provided experts for the electoral process, not just money.
“I think the government will consider this move and try to appease countries upset with the current political situation,” he said. “But it depends on the will of the government.”
Mr Sokha was arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government with US help. He has rejected the accusations as a political ploy.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the EU withdrew funding from the NEC after the government refused to release Mr Sokha.
“We are not worried about this funding suspension,” said Mr Eysan.
“They demanded the release of their puppet, but the government will not change its stance.”