Cambodia has been named among a small group of countries where democracy is “on the ropes” at a U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
The hearing, held on June 14, invited experts to testify as to the health of democratic regimes seen as “backsliding” towards authoritarianism.
“From Turkey to Cambodia, democratic institutions around the world are under siege,” said Congressman Ed Royce, who chaired the hearing.
“There is no doubt that democracy is on the ropes. Freedom House reports that democracy has declined worldwide over the last decade. The question for us is do we care? And if so, what should we do about it?” Royce said.
The National Democratic Institute (NDI), one of three civil society groups called on to give testimony at the hearing, was forced to leave Cambodia in 2017 amid pressure from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party.
Kenneth Wollack, NDI president, said Prime Minister Hun Sen was “cracking down on civil society, the media, and has outlawed a party that represents half the population,” referring to the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was banned in late 2017.
“In a sense, this is the third coup since the UNTAC election in 1993. The CPP didn’t accept the results in 1993. There was another coup in 1997, and this is the third coup,” he said.
Both the European Union and the United States have suspended their support to the National Election Committee (NEC) since the dissolution of the CNRP.
Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia through a combination of pragmatism and force for over three decades, the hearing was told. In the last elections, in 2013, the CPP narrowly beat the CNRP at the polls, but the vote was marked by allegations of voter fraud that triggered mass demonstrations which culminated in the deaths of at least five people at the hands of the security forces.
“What Hun Sen is doing is just awful. I compare [him] to Pol Pot because of the similar dictatorships in different times,” said Congressman Eliot Engel, a ranking member of the committee.
Meanwhile, Wollack said the international community had a crucial role to play in bringing attention to what was happening in Cambodia, adding that Cambodians had the most crucial role in the pro-democracy movement in their country.
“I think everything ought to be peaceful, but people, citizens, and Democrats in the country ought to continue to organize and use whatever space exists to participate in the process,” he said.