The government yesterday ordered the US-funded National Democratic Institute to close and gave its foreign staff a week to leave the country.
The decision to shut down NDI, which has operated in Cambodia for more than 25 years, was made after allegations that the organisation had helped the opposition CNRP draw up a strategy to win next year’s national election.
A leaked document posted to government-aligned Fresh News media claimed to show that the International Republican Institute and National Endowment for Democracy had managed a plan to help the opposition party topple Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
The Foreign Ministry said it had decided to close NDI because it has been operating without being registered with the government.
Authorities made the decision to ensure strict implementation and effectiveness of the country’s laws, thus strengthening the rule of law and respect for Cambodia’s sovereignty, it said.
The ministry said it would like to keep national and international public opinion abreast of the decision’s legal basis, particularly the law on associations and non-government organisations adopted in 2015.
Since this law came into force, the NDI had operated without being registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until it filed a request for registration on June 21 last year.
“Pending the ministry’s decision on its application, the NDI has continued carrying out its activities with total contempt,” it said.
“The competent authorities are geared up to take the same measures against any foreign association and non-governmental organisation that fails to abide by the Law on Associations and Non-Government Organisations.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Cambodian democracy was on a dangerous path as a result of the decision to close the NDI.
“We have seen persecution of the opposition party, media broadcasters and civil society organisations,” he said. “We see it reaching a point of concern. The election ahead won’t be free and fair.”
Mr Sovann declined to comment on the leaked documents that the IRI and NED planned to help his party defeat Mr Hun Sen’s government.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed the opposition’s claims and said the government was strengthening the law on associations and non-government organisations.
“We can’t make a prediction about the election in future, whether it is free and fair or not,” Mr Eysan said.
John Cavanaugh, head of the NDI in Cambodia, said he could not comment.
However, the US Embassy said on its website that the NDI was one of the world’s most respected democracy NGOs and had been working in Cambodia since 1992.
It said the NDI had a valid memorandum of understanding with Cambodia’s National Election Committee and worked closely with the NEC and the Interior Ministry. Its programs had helped improve government accountability, and contributed to a more open and inclusive electoral process.
This year the NDI trained the ruling CPP on external communications, campaign planning, election observation, and voter messaging. Similar training was offered to opposition parties, it said.
Meanwhile, Deborah Krisher-Steele, owner and publisher of the Cambodia Daily, has written to Kong Vibol, head of the general department of taxation, to ask for a meeting to discuss a true audit of the paper after getting a $6.1 million bill for back taxes.
“Our lawyer disagrees with all of your figures, calculations and assumptions. He has never seen a tax bill as egregiously wrong and in violation of the normal process during his 14-year career,” Ms Krisher-Steele wrote.
“Furthermore, I am deeply disappointed that you violated article 94 of the Law on Taxation and leaked your letter to Fresh News on August 5, prior to even me receiving it.
“I am also disappointed that you again broke the same law on August 20, when you spoke to Fresh News about our case.
“I would like your explanation regarding these actions.”