PHNOM PENH — Preliminary results in Cambodia’s June 4 local, or commune, elections indicate a narrow win for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. The CPP took 51% of the popular vote, giving it control of around 1,100 of the country’s 1,646 communes. But nearly half of all voters opted for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, suggesting a close fight in next year’s parliamentary elections. The local elections were a dry run for the 2018 poll. Two days before the vote, Hun Sen led a huge CPP rally in Phnom Penh — a rare appearance from a leader previously so confident that he rarely campaigned. The CNRP emulated the CPP later the same day. Tens of thousands of both parties’ supporters rode around the capital in festive convoys of trucks and motorbikes around 5km long.
SINGAPORE — In contrast to the anguish and astonishment expressed in many national capitals, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president in November. While the warm response augured well for Phnom Penh’s often troubled relations with Washington, prospects for improved bilateral ties have since faded. In January, the month of Trump’s inauguration, Cambodia pulled out of the “Angkor Sentinel” joint military exercises with the U.S. In early April Phnom Penh followed up that snub to Washington by halting a nine-year-old humanitarian program run by the U.S. military that involved building schools and maternity facilities in rural areas of Cambodia. These affronts were punctuated by testy exchanges between the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government, notably over a political parties law passed in February that will make it easier for the Cambodian courts to suspend or even dissolve opposition parties. “Any government action to ban or restrict parties under the new amendments would constitute a significant setback for Cambodia’s political development, and would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the upcoming elections,” the embassy said, referring to local elections scheduled for June and a national poll due in 2018. The law has been widely criticized in Cambodia, too. Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, described it as “an affront to the principles of liberal democracy, [which] effectively gives the ruling party a delete button which can be arbitrarily applied to their political opponents at any time.”
JAKARTA — China and Cambodia reaffirmed their solid relationship during a two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Phnom Penh, which ended on Oct. 14. Xi’s meetings with Cambodian government leaders yielded 31 agreements, including one that doubles Cambodia’s quota for rice exports to China to 200,000 tons a year. Cambodia’s rice sector has been hit by falling prices, affecting farmers and millers, and the government has been scrambling to offset the damage, which could undermine ruling party support among the country’s rural majority ahead of local elections in 2017. Cambodia’s long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen recently visited China, where he pushed for an increase in the rice quota. “About 80% of our people are farmers,” Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers told the Nikkei Asian Review. “This agreement is very important to the rural economy.”
PHNOM PENH — It was late evening around the Boeung Trabek area of Cambodia’s capital, and the Vietnamese-run cafés and carpentry shops on these dimly lit sidestreets were locking up for the night. One restaurant owner, who would not give his name, told The Edge Review that “politics is messy for us in this country,” explaining his reluctance to discuss in more detail the anti-Vietnamese speeches given by opposition leader Sam Rainsy since his return to Cambodia on July 19. Another shop-owner, speaking Khmer but with what a translator described as a Vietnamese accent, said she is a Cambodian from Kampong Cham, about a three-hour drive from Phnom Penh. She said that she neither comes from Vietnam nor has any Vietnamese ancestry – her apparent reluctance to divulge her background perhaps another signal of the fears held by Vietnamese migrants and Cambodians of Vietnamese descent in Cambodia’s fractious post-election period.
SEKSAK, BATTAMBANG — On the back 7 to 10 percent growth over much of the last decade, Cambodia’s government insists it is trying to build what it calls a sustainable land policy, including reclaiming fertile terrain lost to landmines and bombs — legacies of the country’s years of civil conflict. But others say a corrupt and Chinese-influenced administration is trampling the rights of citizens in the name of economic development in what remains a country still recovering from long-finished wars. Until six months ago, the fields behind Ly Susmat’s house in Seksak village in the western Battambang province were not safe to walk. That was before the NGO Mines Advisory Group pitched down in the village to clear mines and unexploded ordnance, a dangerous and economically-debilitating legacy of civil war in a country where around 80% of the people depend on farming for a living. He has got some land to farm safely now, but that’s just a start. “I need capital to rent a plough, I want to grow highland rice here,” Ly Susmat says, waving an arm toward an 8,000 meter square plot of land outside Seksak, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in the west of the country.