Cambodia’s government on Wednesday said it was an “obvious fact” that the U.S. was interfering in the country’s coming elections in a scathing response to a statement from the U.S. Embassy saying it was “deeply concerned” by proposed amendments to the Law on Political Parties.
Though the ruling party has since denied it, Prime Minister Hun Sen said last month that the amendments—giving the government the power to suspend political parties for vague infractions and courts the power to dissolve them—were specifically aimed at the CNRP.
“I request to make a change on this to make him lose all rights,” Mr. Hun Sen said of the amendments in a speech on January 31, referring to then-CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who has since resigned in an attempt to spare his party from the new law due to his criminal convictions.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy said: “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 Foreign Affairs Ministry, which has taken the lead in efforts to prevent foreign donors from “interfering” in Cambodia’s affairs by criticizing legal and human rights abuses, responded on Wednesday with a stern warning to the U.S.
“The United States is criticising the Royal Government of Cambodia based merely on groundless suspicions rather than on sound and well-reasoned factual justifications, to which the Royal Government finds it not acceptable,” it said in a statement.
“In the recent past the United States has expressed concerns about foreign intervention in its own election. In a similar vein, Cambodia is also concerned about foreign interference, which is not just a possibility but already an obvious fact,” it added.
“We call on the US Administration to respect international principles of non-interference and national sovereignty and to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Cambodia.”
The statement was released hours after a speech by Mr. Hun Sen on Wednesday morning, in which he told the U.S. to mind its own business.
“Every foreign country must understand that with the Khmer story, only Khmer will solve it,” Mr. Hun Sen said at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education.
“Of course, I need your aid, business and cooperation, but I have never interfered with your internal affairs, so I just ask that you not interfere in my affairs,” he said.
The prime minister once again accused the U.S. of hypocrisy due to its bombing campaign in the east of the country during the Second Indochina War.
“The law in Cambodia passed by the National Assembly is not a law to kill Cambodians like you killed Cambodians before,” he said, pointing also to the destruction caused by wars waged by the U.S. in the Middle East.
Critics say the law does, however, give the ruling party a tool to effectively kill democracy in the country by eliminating parties that threaten its power, given that the courts are widely seen as being subservient to the ruling party and the language in the new amendments is wide open for interpretation.
Jay Raman, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, on Wednesday said it stood by its criticism.
“The Embassy stands by its statement of February 20, which reflects the U.S. government’s steadfast support for a vibrant multi-party democracy in Cambodia,” he said in an email.
The E.U. on Wednesday joined the U.S. in speaking out against the new legislation—major democratic donors Australia and Japan have remained silent—saying it could delegitimize upcoming local and national elections.
“The election climate is adversely affected by the passage in the National Assembly on 20 February of legislation that would potentially allow for arbitrary restrictions of political party activities or for their dissolution,” the statement said.
“Such actions against opposition parties would call into question the legitimacy of the coming elections.”