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Observers Urge Decrease in US Aid, Support to New Government

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni (in middle) in group photo with ruling members of National Assembly on first session. (Photo: VOA Khmer)
Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni (in middle) in group photo with ruling members of National Assembly on first session. (Photo: VOA Khmer)

WASHINGTON DC - As a standoff over the elections and formation of Cambodia’s government continues, critics say the United States should consider decreasing aid to Cambodia and other leading donor nations should do the same.

Some observers see this year’s election as similar to the elections of 1998, which came on the heels of a coup and a grenade attack on an opposition rally and were followed by massive demonstrations and clashes with police.

John Sifton, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the US should not lend for infrastructure projects until donors like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have better safeguards in place for the poor, many of whom have been displaced in recent years by development projects.

The US could also take a leadership role in not recognizing the July elections as free or fair, and convince donors like the EU and Japan to decrease aid as well, Sifton said.

“Given the fact that Hun Sen has stolen another election, it is time for the United States to start using their influence at the World Bank and ADB to push for this stuff,” he said. “Right now infrastructure lending by the World Bank and ADB can go straight to the hands of the very rich CPP party leaders; people get displaced from their lands for things like Boeung Kak lake, railroad projects, road projects; and rich Cambodian political leaders get richer and poor Cambodian land owners get poorer, and it’s not the benefit in a long term.”

As in other elections, he said, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party will promise reform and concessions, he said, but “at the end of the day, the CPP retains all its control.”

Schanley Kuch, a political analyst in Maryland, said a “unilateral” government should be pressured from donors, including the US. “It creates suffering and the mistreatment of the Cambodian people,” he said.

Meanwhile, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and ruling party remain at odds over the election and the formation of the government. Some observers say that the longer it goes, the more things will stay the same.

“A prolonged standoff does not bode well for democratic reform,” said John Ciorciari, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan. “Neither party will benefit from a failure to reach a negotiated solution, as the CNRP will remain on the sidelines, and the CPP will rule with little legitimacy and an acute threat of unrest and foreign condemnation.”

Both sides, however, can benefit from working together, he said.

“A compromise solution could entail public CPP commitments to concrete reforms and perhaps some key judicial and executive appointments for the CNRP, in exchange for the latter’s acceptance of an opposition role. This kind of deal would frustrate partisans on both sides, but it offers the most promising path forward for Cambodia.”

Calls for aid suspension is not the answer, he said.

“The CNRP is calling on foreign governments to suspend aid and cooperation with the CPP, but donors are not eager to burn bridges with a party that they expect to remain in power,” he said. “Cambodia’s main problems—if the CNRP stays out of the government—will be internal, as frustrated opposition protesters clash with the police, and the political space for compromise shrinks.”