WASHINGTON DC - Nearly 500 Cambodian-Americans gathered at a rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday, demanding a transparent investigation into Cambodia’s alleged election irregularities.
The rally was addressed by three Republican congressmen who called on a change in Cambodia’s governance.
Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia Pacific, applauded those gathered, saying they were fighting for freedom and justice.
Chabot, who is pushing for a bill in the House that seeks to tie US aid to Cambodia to legitimate elections, said he supported calls by protesters for a transparent review of election irregularities. “And I ask [Prime Minister] Hun Sen to approve this review,” he said. “It is time to end Hun Sen’s illegitimate reign over the people of Cambodia. May God bless America, and may God bless the people of Cambodia.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a senior Republican member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, told the rally that Hun Sen should be removed from office.
“We support democracy, liberty, justice and honesty,” he said. “Hun Sen stands for none of these. He has to go.”
Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told demonstrators that US lawmakers are tired of land grabs and illegalities and are upset with a rule of law that is not utilized in Cambodia.
“And that is why people are out here today, to say enough, enough to Hun Sen,” he said. “And so I am here to share with you my support for change in the future.”
In the crowd, demonstrators held signs calling for improved elections, human rights and an investigation into irregularities. One sign cautioned against “Chinese-styled democracy.” “Hun Sen must step down,” said another.
Mike Benge, an American who worked with Cambodians in the 1980s, told VOA Khmer he wanted to see more congressional support for a political change in Cambodia. Hun Sen has been ruling through the “barrel of the gun,” he said. “Now he’s confronted with a new political power in Cambodia,” he said. “That’s people power.”
The rally in Washington comes amid a political deadlock in Cambodia between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, both of which are claiming victory in July’s election. The National Election Committee, accused by opposition leaders of bias toward the ruling parties, has declared victory for the CPP, but the Rescue Party wants an investigation into widespread reports of election irregularities.
Sar Bopha, 45, an opposition supporter who now lives in Virginia, said she had come to the rally to push for political changes in Cambodia and an end to corruption, election fraud and the abuse of human rights and land rights.
“The US can help [make] Hun Sen step down,” she said. “Then the US can help provide more aid to Cambodia.”
Prom Saunora, who organized the demonstration, told VOA Khmer the US must pressure Cambodia for change.
“First pressure, the US can cut aid,” he said. “Second pressure, the US can tell other countries to do the same.”
Not only does the Cambodian government get aid from the West, but the West is the top buyer of goods produced in Cambodia, he said. “This is a core, and if other countries and the EU don’t buy any Cambodian goods, the government will absolutely fall down,” he said.
In Cambodia, government spokesman Phay Siphan said US lawmakers understand Cambodia through “reports only.”
“The fate of Cambodia does not depend on the US at all,” he said. “It depends on the will and the choice of Cambodians.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yiep told VOA Khmer that the ruling party had done nothing unlawful.
“Those three congressmen do no represent the entire Congress,” he said. “There are just exercising their rights individually.”
Calls for Hun Sen to step down go against the election results, he added.
“The matter of stepping down is nothing to be decided,” he said. “There are only the votes that decide meaning, that of the people.”