UNITED STATES non-profit the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has expressed its “deep disappointment” and urged for a review of the Hun Sen government’s decision to prevent it from continuing its operations in Cambodia.
On Wednesday, Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry ordered NDI’s office be shut down and that all the organisation’s foreign staff be expelled from the Kingdom within seven days.
“We are surprised and saddened by this development,” said NDI president Kenneth Wollack in a statement. “For 25 years in Cambodia, NDI has worked with all major political parties, including the ruling party.”
“We have been transparent in our work, and have made every attempt to comply with the law. It is our sincere hope the Cambodian government will review its decision.”
Amid a crackdown against political opposition, the media and civil society ahead of the 2018 national elections, Cambodia’s government ordered the NDI to cease work because it claimed the organisation had not fulfilled its tax and registration obligations. The NDI has operated in the country since 1992.
The organisation rejected the allegations, claiming it has “fulfilled all legal obligations” and that the government had “accepted NDI’s registration documents on Sept 21, 2016, and has yet to act on the submission.”
Earlier this month, the NDI was accused of running training for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) on how to defeat the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the forthcoming elections.
Government-aligned media outlet Fresh News called the training session a “deliberately evil plan” to unseat Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades.
In June’s local commune elections, the CNRP won some 46 percent of the vote to the government’s 51 percent – a massive increase from the previous poll where the CPP gained 97 percent against a divided opposition.
The NDI statement on Wednesday said it had “a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Election Committee (NEC) and works closely with the Committee.”
“I’ve been watching #Cambodia closely & this is a disturbing development. NDI seeks only greater transparency, in Cambodia and every country,” tweeted US Senator Ben Cardin.
This week the government also threatened the English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper with closure unless it could pay a US$6.4 million tax bill by Sept 4.
“The fact this comes in a context of increasing repression of freedom of expression and civil society space in Cambodia is all the more worrying, and hints at continued attempts by the ruling party to consolidate power ahead of next year’s national elections,” Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairman Malaysian MP Charles Santiago said on Wednesday.
“Shuttering NDI without giving them an adequate opportunity to respond to these allegations has brought these fears to life.”