Australian Senate Pushes for Fair Elections in Cambodia

The Australian Senate yesterday urged the Cambodian government to run free and fair national elections next year without the “harassment or intimidation” of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who remains in self-imposed exile avoiding an 11-year jail sentence.

The appeal comes only days after the European Parliament passed its own resolution condemning what it called Mr. Rainsy’s “politically motivated” sentence and urging the government to fix “major flaws” in how it runs the country’s elections.

Both Australia and the European Union (E.U.) are major aid donors to Cambodia.

The resolution from the Australian Senate “calls on the Cambodian government to hold free and fair elections in 2013 and to ensure that opposition parties are able to participate fully in Cambodian politics without physical or judicial harassment or intimidation, including opposition leader Sam Rainsy, as recommended by the U.N. special rapporteur.”

Surya Subedi, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights to Cambodia, in his latest report called for a political solution that would allow Mr. Rainsy to “play a full role in Cambodian politics” and recommended several other reforms to the election process.

Government officials have been taking an increasingly harsh view of Mr. Subedi’s reports, however, and have repeatedly rejected calls to let Mr. Rainsy return to Cambodia without arrest.

Mr. Rainsy, president of the eponymously named Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), was first convicted in 2010 of destroying public property for uprooting temporary border posts along Cambodia’s frontier with Vietnam and later of disinformation for posting maps of the area online.

The SRP, the country’s largest opposition party, is threatening a possible boycott of July’s national elections unless Mr. Rainsy is allowed back to contest the poll and unless the government concedes to reforms of an electoral process it accuses of favoring the ruling CPP.

On Friday, the European Parliament in Brussels passed a resolution of its own noting that E.U. observers found Cambodia’s last national elections in 2008 to have fallen short of international standards.

Mirroring Mr. Subedi’s language, it called on the government to work with the opposition so that it could “play a full role in Cambodian politics and in the forthcoming elections in order to provide credibility to the electoral process.”

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