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.
According to Countryaah.com, Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia, a country located in Southeastern Asia. UN Special Rapporteur for Cambodia, Rhona Smith, had warned that voters were threatened that support could be withdrawn if they did not vote for the CPP.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 foreign criticism.
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 against humanity.
New mini-oil nation
Extensive exploration drilling on the Cambodian shelf provides hope that oil and gas may be the basis for future growth in the national economy. The port city of Sihanoukville is the base for exploration, which takes place over an area of 37,000 square kilometers. As the largest operator, US Chevron (together with Japanese Mitsui Oil) has made a discovery estimated at 400 million barrels.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated in 2007 that Cambodia’s oil revenues in 2020 will reach a minimum of $ 1.7 billion. In comparison, the entire state budget in 2009 was 1.9 billion, half of which was covered by external aid. The United Nations Development Program UNDP has estimated in a report that with full production capacity, the Chevron block could provide between 100,000 and 150,000 barrels per day. The other five blocks were not included in the calculation. Cambodia also has significant amounts of natural gas northeast of the country. In 2008, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate and Norad participated in a UNDP conference in Phnom Penh on oil revenue management. However, there is no indication of a breakthrough for a Cambodian oil fund according to the Norwegian pattern.
Foreign experts point out that the institutions that the Cambodian government has set up to manage future oil revenues are characterized by extensive secrecy and a lack of control mechanisms. The state oil company Cambodian National Petroleum Company (CNPC) is directly subject to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An; the latter is CNPC’s chairman. The opposition in the National Assembly has complained about a very limited view of the state oil company’s operations. Millions of dollars paid for licenses have not been included in the company’s accounts, according to British Global Witness, which monitors and investigates business projects in developing countries.
Environmental organizations have previously raised strong complaints that another of Cambodia’s foremost natural resources – large forests with valuable timber – has been almost depleted in the last 10-20 years. Behind a very widespread predatory attack lies the corruption within the country’s political elite, which has allegedly left the carpentry companies unrestrained. Among donor countries and investors, corruption is often referred to as a major problem.
Since 2006, the World Bank has placed Cambodia among the worst 8 percent of all countries in terms of “lack of corruption control”. Cambodia was ranked 156th out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index in 2014. Incidentally, the country was ranked 136th out of 187 on the UN Index for Living and Human Development in 2013.