The United States is cutting some aid programs to Cambodia over Prime Minister Hun Sen’s months-long crackdown on political dissent.
On Monday, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party announced it had won every seat in the Senate election, several months after the CPP-dominated Supreme Court dissolved the country’s main opposition party.
“These setbacks compelled the United States to review its assistance to Cambodia to ensure that American taxpayer funds are not being used to support anti-democratic behavior,” said a White House statement.
The Senate election results were questioned by the European Union and international election monitors.
Washington said it had spent more than $1 billion on Cambodia over the past 25 years but that recent developments had caused “deep concern”.
It said the suspension of aid would affect military assistance and some tax department programs, but would not affect aid programs that went directly towards helping the Cambodian people. In total, some $8.3 million in aid were effected, it said.
Chum Bun Rong, Cambodia’s ambassador to the United States, declined to comment on the aid cuts, saying: “The election went smoothly. Some said the election was dominated by one strong party while others were weaker, but it was a democratic election based on our law.”
“If the election was illegitimate the people would protest against it.”
US Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) said he supported the White House and blamed Hun Sen for the sanctions.
“Support and cooperation from the United States and the international community must be dependent on Hun Sen following the agreements he signed providing for free and fair elections,” he wrote in an e-mail. “This is about the protection and preservation of universal human rights such as political dissent and freedom of the press for the Cambodian people.”
Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH), who has also campaigned for greater democracy in Cambodia, said he was pleased to see a firmer stance taken by Washington.
“It is heartening to see U.S. leadership taking an important role in support of democracy and rule of law in Cambodia,”he wrote in an e-mail. “We stand with the people of Cambodia and support their efforts to become a democracy in the face of an authoritarian ruler.”
In November, the Trump administration placed a visa ban on several top Cambodian officials following the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party by the Supreme Court and the jailing of its leader, Kem Sokha, on treason charges, which he denies.
The CNRP won more than 3 million votes in local elections in June last year.
"I am very sorry [for the sanctions],” said CNRP vice president Eng Chhay Eang. “We know that after the Paris Agreement, the United States has provided a lot of aid to Cambodia for economic and social development; billions of dollars. What the United States gave to Cambodia was for genuine democracy.”
Yap Kimtung, president of Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy, said Hun Sen’s actions were “destroying” Cambodia.
“There is no justice, especially no democracy, and that’s why other countries have to step in to put pressure on Cambodia.”
Additional reporting by Sok Khemara.