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Election to Dominate Discussion at Cambodian-American Meeting

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, center, greets his supporters during his Cambodian People's Party's last campaign for the July 29 general election, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, July 27, 2018.

The second annual Overseas Khmer Summit will focus on “unity, peace, continuity, and prosperity”.

Cambodian-American activists are meeting this weekend to discuss ways to improve their community, but it is expected that the recent general election in Cambodia will dominate discussions.

The second annual Overseas Khmer Summit will be held for three days starting on Friday at Mendota Heights, Minnesota, where activists will focus on “unity, peace, continuity, and prosperity”.

The summit comes one week after Cambodians voted in an election that was marred by alleged vote buying, intimidation, and international criticism. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen won all 125 seats in parliament.

“This year we have more associations joining us to discuss ways to improve our community,” said Yap Kimtung, president of Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy. “Especially, the summit is being held just after the election so some of us will talk about it and come up with a solution.”

The CPP’s victory will extend Hun Sen’s 33-year ruling for five more years, making him the longest-serving prime minister in the region. There were 19 other political parties contesting in the poll, but none had an established presence in the National Assembly. The Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, late last year, and banned 118 of its officials from politics for five years.

“We want to see a free and fair election, where people are free to choose whoever they want,” said Yap Kimtung. “If people choose Hun Sen, we will respect that.”

Speakers at the event will include veteran community activists Kompha Seth, executive director of Cambodian Association of Illinois, Vann Sar, president of Khmer Alliance Foundation, and Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

Yem Rithipol, president of Our Mutual National Interest, said that Cambodia’s democracy has devolved from the spirit of the Paris Peace Agreement, signed almost 27 years ago in France.

“Overseas Cambodians appeal to leaders of all political parties and government to acknowledge this reality,” said Rithipol. “Then they open up the country to let compatriots from overseas ... return home to work together in unity.”

The CNRP called on people to boycott the poll or spoil their ballots. They claimed credit for almost 600,000 invalid ballots and alleged that the election body made up the high voter turnout. They are calling for a reelection.

“The CPP is the one who has killed democracy by creating the party-dominated election body, dissolved the [Cambodia National] Rescue Party, and abused other parties,” said Soung Sophorn, president of the Khmer Power Party, which boycotted the election process.