Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Post-Election Int’l Responses: US to Restrict Visas and Aid, Australia Increases Funding

Voters look at their names on voter lists outside the polling station in Phnom Penh, July 23, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Voters look at their names on voter lists outside the polling station in Phnom Penh, July 23, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

After Cambodia’s elections, the US announced it planned to impose further visa and funding restrictions, while China and Russia endorsed the electoral process and its outcome. 

The elections were “neither free nor fair,” the US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a Sunday statement.

The US would pause some foreign assistance programs and has “taken steps to impose visa restrictions on individuals who undermined democracy,” Miller noted. 

The US has not noted which individuals could face these restrictions and US Embassy spokesperson Michael Greenwald told CamboJA via email that US law “does not allow for the release of visa records.” 

“We will continue to work with Cambodian and other partners to implement our existing assistance programs,” he added, but noted that “several new assistant activities” had “paused.”

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan rejected the US government’s claims about Cambodia’s elections, saying  “they have no right to make an assessment because they weren’t sending its observers to monitor the election process in Cambodia.”

The US, France and Japan had all stated they would not send observers to monitor the elections.

Eysan added that “individuals who undermined democracy” simply won’t go to the US, while NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea said the restrictions “intentionally discriminated against Cambodian citizens.

Other foreign governments chimed in as well post-election. On Monday, the European Union’s Diplomatic service issued a statement noting Cambodia had “restricted political and civic space.” 

“…The opposition, civil society and the media were unable to function effectively without hindrance,” the statement noted.

Germany’s Federal Foreign Office also issued a statement on Monday saying elections took place in “a restrictive political environment” and left voters “without a genuine choice at the ballot box.”

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office said the election was “preceded by a narrowing of the political space,” determining it was “neither free nor fair.”

The Japanese embassy told CamboJA via email on Tuesday that its government has been “watching with concern the situation toward the General Election in Cambodia this time” and the French Embassy stated that Candlelight’s disqualification undermined the elections.

When asked by CamboJA about the EU, Germany and France’s statements, NEC spokesperson  Dim Sovannarom responded with the smiley face emoji.

Sovannarom also sent a list of points which he said constituted free and fair elections, including one stating that “every citizen and all political parties have equal rights to freedom of expression of political views.” 

Some of the harshest criticisms of the elections came from Australia’s former Foreign Affair Minister, Gareth Evans, who told Radio Free Asia during an interview last week that the ban on the Candlelight Party was “shameless, disgraceful, indefensible” Two days before the election, Cambodian expats gathered in Melbourne to protest the “sham” election.

Australian Ambassador Justin Whyatt tweeted a statement noting the embassy’s “serious concerns” over the elections. 

According to a press release from Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Australian government announced on Tuesday that it will provide an estimated AUD 83.6 million ($56.5 million) in development assistance funds over the next year.

The Australian Embassy told CamboJA that while it holds “serious concerns about the environment in which the recent election was held,” Australia’s development program “makes a real difference in the lives of Cambodia’s most vulnerable,” highlighting outpatient services for poor Cambodians.

While most western governments criticized the elections, Anatoly Borovik, Russian Ambassador to Cambodia, also congratulated Cambodia’s democracy, tweeting that Russia “welcomes the free and independent elections in Cambodia” on Monday. The tweet said no violations were found.

On Tuesday morning Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Qiang also “warmly” congratulated Prime Minister Hun Sen for his party’s victory. In the letter posted by the Khmer Times and circulating on social media, Jinping expressed, “the CPC [Communist Party of China] attaches great importance to friendly cooperation with the CPP.”