Cambodia. As expected, the July 29 parliamentary election
was a grand victory for the ruling Cambodian People's Party
(CPP) and long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen. The party took
home all 125 seats in the lower house. The outcome was given
in advance since the largest opposition party CNRP
(Cambodia's National Rescue Party) was banned in November
2017. Twenty parties were registered for the election. CNRP
had called for a boycott, but according to the Election
Commission, turnout was just over 82%. One possible sign of
voter resistance was that approximately 9% of the ballots
were invalid, compared with 1.6% in the 2013 election.
Countryaah.com, UN Special Rapporteur for Cambodia, Rhona Smith, had
warned that voters were threatened that support could be
withdrawn if they did not vote for the CPP.
Two days before the election, 17 websites were blocked,
including the radio companies Radio Free Asia (RFA) and
Voice of America. Their reporting was alleged to be biased.
The EU, the US and several individual organizations decided
not to send any election observers. However, Japan provided
assistance with the election, in part to try to counter
China's strong influence in Cambodia, according to some
analysts. Hun Sen met Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in
Tokyo in October in connection with an annual meeting
between Japan and the five members of the Mekong Group.
A court ruled in September that CNRP leader Kem Sokha
would be released on bail, a year after he was arrested for
alleged treason. He was placed under house arrest pending
trial where he faces 30 years in prison.
Kem Sokha's release followed in the footsteps of the
pardon of some 20 political prisoners, including another
former MP, and several government critics. Similarly, two
former RFA journalists who were convicted of espionage were
released. The releases were considered intended to dampen
Parliament reaffirmed the CPP's victory in September and
re-elected Hun Sen. The old government remained. In October,
Parliament also rejected criticism from a committee of the
Interparliamentary Union (IPU) for its decision to ban CNRP.
Hun Sen stressed in several speeches that the recognition
of Cambodians was enough to make the election legitimate and
rejected criticism from several Western governments. He also
welcomed continued aid from China.
In October, the EU announced that Cambodia risks losing
its duty-free status under the "Everything but Arms" program
as a result of negative democratic developments. It would be
costly as the EU accounts for 40% of Cambodia's exports. In
2018, the country's economy was expected to grow by 6.8%
with strong contributions from textile exports and tourism
according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In November, Cambodia's UN-backed tribunal sentenced two
of the leaders under the Red Khmer terrorist regime 1975-79
to life imprisonment for genocide, the first judges of its
kind. Those convicted were Khieu Sampan, the 87-year-old
former president, and former chief ideologist Nuon Chea, 92,
sometimes known as "number two brother". During the terror
of the Red Khmer, at least 1.7 million people are believed
to have died when cities were emptied of their population
and millions of people were forced to work in collective
agriculture. Both were sentenced in 2014 to life for crimes