A bill sponsored by the US House of Representatives aimed at democracy promotion in Cambodia is likely to hit a roadblock at the Senate when Congress closes in December, officials have said.
But lawmakers have vowed to reintroduce the bill after Congress reconvenes early next year.
The Cambodia Democracy Act 2018 has stalled at the Senate’s foreign relations committee since July. Staff at the committee said there are no plans to review the bill, without providing an explanation.
The bill was introduced in May by Congressman Ted Yoho, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee. It was approved without objection by the House of Representatives on July 25, just days before Cambodia held a general election.
If passed, it would pave the way for sanctions to be placed on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s inner circle.
Yoho said he would reintroduce the bill in January if it fails to pass by the end of the year.
“Our goal is to have it within that first month when we come back, probably in January,” Yoho told VOA Khmer in a phone interview.
Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 seats in parliament following a crackdown on the opposition, civil society groups, and the media. Kem Sokha, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s president, was jailed on treason charges for allegedly conspiring with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen. He was later placed under house arrest awaiting trial.
“I think it’s just a sham for Hun Sen to go ahead and do that after the elections,” said Yoho. “He’s got nothing to lose right now because there’s no elections and he can claim legitimacy for being elected again even though he had warned any opposition, or ran them out of the country or locked them up, and stifled the press. But now the election has been held, he can claim now that he is a good guy and that he’s playing by the rules.”
“It’s just the game he is playing that we’re not falling for,” added Yoho. “The free world doesn’t fall for that kind of nonsense. And if he is really concerned about leaving a legacy for him and his country, he would allow free and open elections. What’s he afraid of if he’s done a great job? You would think the people would overwhelmingly vote him in in free and open elections.”
The bill would place sanctions on 16 individuals who were deemed to have “undermined democracy”, including Hun Sen and two of his children.