"Democracy died in Cambodia today"

"Democracy died in Cambodia today"
By Catherine Hardy  with REUTERS

The EU and US are promising "concrete steps" against Cambodia after the main opposition party was banned ahead of the country's elections.

The EU and US are promising “concrete steps” against Cambodia after the main opposition party was banned ahead of the country’s elections.

An EU spokesperson says the election could not be legitimate without the opposition. Officials say respect for human rights is a prerequisite for Cambodia’s access to EU trade preferences under its “Everything but Arms” scheme.

The fact that the threat of action came from the White House gave it greater weight than previous statements from the State Department.

Hun Sen has been in a deepening war of words with the US embassy and State Department over a crackdown on his critics.

Trade scheme

EU officials have warned of consequences to vital trade.

A scheme giving free access has helped Cambodia build a garment industry on low-cost labour.

Similar trade preferences exist with the US.

Between them, EU and US markets take around 60% of Cambodia’s of Cambodia’s exports.

What happened to the opposition?

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the Supreme Court on Thursday at the request of the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The ban follows the arrest of its leader, Kem Sokha, for treason. He is accused of plotting to take power with American help.

In a televised address on Thursday, Hun Sen told Cambodians the election would go ahead “as normal” and appealed to politicians from the CNRP who had not been banned to join his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Why is China important?

Beijing is by far the biggest single donor to Cambodia and its biggest investor.

It voiced support for the government after the arrest of Kem Sokha.

What has been the response on the streets?

There have been no protests over the ruling and many people in the capital, Phnom Penh, say they are afraid to speak out.

There were no party members at CNRP headquarters.

“They are worried for their safety,” said a security guard.

Is there much appetite for sanctions?

There has not been much so far from Western countries.

The opposition has been wary of calling for steps to restrict garment exports because of the hundreds of thousands of workers who depend on the industry.

However, CNRP leader now say they support some sanctions.

What about human rights?

The US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch says the court ruling should lead Cambodia’s donors and trade partners to impose targeted sanctions.

These include asset freezes and travel bans on Hun Sen’s inner circle.

What do Hun Sen’s critics say?

That the CNRP dissolution is an attempt to steal the election and the death knell for democracy.

Hun Sen’s more-than three decade rule faces a major challenge at next year’s general election.

Western donors have spent billions of dollars since 1993 trying to build a multiparty system following decades of war.

What they are saying

“On current course, next year’s election will not be legiitmate, free or fair,” – the White House promises to take concrete steps.

“Sanctions are the best leverage for negotiation for free, fair and inclusive elections,” – Kem Sokha’s deputy Mo Sochua.

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