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US (United States of Cambodia?) Senator Mitch McConnell

US Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican from the state of Kentucky, has long since been a strong critic of Cambodia PM Hun Sen and the CPP government. In the past year several comments of his, including a call for regime change, as well as a recent bill he sponsored have raised the hackles of quite a few expatriates, diplomats, and locals as well.

As Majority Whip, the Senator is the second highest ranking member of the US Senate. He is also a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

The senator's most recent contribution to Cambodian politics is the bill S. 1365, Cambodia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2003.

The bill states:


(a) IN GENERAL- Subject to the requirements of subsection (b), an additional $21,500,000 shall be made available for assistance for Cambodia above the fiscal year 2004 budget request of $43,000,000.

(b) CERTIFICATION REQUIRED- Increased assistance for Cambodia under subsection (a) shall only be made available if the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the appropriate congressional committees that new leadership in Cambodia has been elected in free and fair elections, and that Prime Minister Hun Sen is no longer in power.

Now let me get this straight...

1.) If I offer money to vote for a candidate, that would be clearly considered vote buying and would be illegal. However, if I offer money not to vote for a candidate, is that not vote buying as well?

2.) Is it not possible that a CPP victory does express the will of the Cambodian people and that the election could be deemed free and fair and Hun Sen still the winner?

The people of Cambodia should be allowed to run their own elections and choose their own leadership without the interference of a larger nation, especially a nation whose own recent history includes an election that hardly exemplifies the democratic tradition which the Senator is trying to place upon Cambodia. As the United States demands the world to recognize the results of the 2000 election and the leadership that now heads the nation, it is only fair to afford the same rights to the people of Cambodia in their 2003 election.

In reading the findings of S. 1365, as well as some other comments made by the Senator (see links below), I actually agree with much of what Sen. McConnell addresses as problems in Cambodia. What I don't agree with is an elected representative of one nation with an imperfect democracy imposing his opinions of democracy on another nation with an imperfect democracy.

As I'm not Cambodian nor have the right to vote in that country, I'm not particularly comfortable expressing political opinions that favor one party over another, but that's not to say I don't have opinions. Well, then, if I'm going to criticize the Senator I ought to support these criticisms, so here they are:

Democracy takes time. Stability is possible without democracy. Democracy is not possible without stability. While the CPP may not be the most effective leadership that could run a nation they are at this time the most effective leadership for Cambodia. If that's an uncomfortable statement for some, perhaps then it says more about the condition of democracy in Cambodia than anything else. Cambodia most certainly needs a viable opposition. The problem is that in 2003 this opposition does not yet exist. Sam Rainsy may do a good talk but he has no power base. A leader without a power base in Cambodia will only result in the country collapsing into instability, adversely affecting not only the political system, but the economy of the nation as well.

It is not fair from the comfort of the USA, a country with a stable democracy of over 200 years, to expect a country with only ten years of fledgling democracy and only recent stability to maintain the same standards. These things take time.

Senator McConnell has criticized the international community for complacency in the continuing leadership of the CPP. Perhaps the Senator should understand that the international community agrees that the need for stability precedes the need for a better democracy and that it takes time to transform what was not long ago a country run by one the most brutal regimes of the 20th century into a functioning, free and fair democracy.

I'm no fan of PM Hun Sen and the CPP. But I am a proponent of stability and its correlation with a functioning economy. It's regrettable that Cambodia does not yet have a viable opposition and if Senator McConnell feels in some way he has the way to promote the development of a viable opposition that doesn't interfere in Cambodia's electoral process, then I would support these efforts as we share common ground in wishing to see a better Cambodia. But to tie international aid with a specific outcome of a national election is not only undemocratic, it's immoral, and quite possibly illegal.

Senator, please, Cambodia needs aid - so offer it. But do not meddle in the electoral process of this nation. Would you like to see the Cambodian government calling for a regime change in the USA? Would you like to see the people of Cambodia urge for a recall of one Republican senator from Kentucky?


And finally, if you are Cambodian, and wish to castigate me for expressing, by default, a preference for the CPP over the SRP, please don't waste your time or mine as I'm not interested in debating the merits of one party over another, at least not in the childish inflammatory manner which so often occurs on other areas of the internet when Cambodians engage in political discussions. On the other hand, if you wish to express an opinion, either on the merits of the USA interfering in the Cambodian electoral process, the present state of democracy in Cambodia and how best to effect positive change and can do so without immature name-calling, I'll give you space to air your views.


Website of Senator Mitch McConnell

S. 1365, Cambodia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2003, June 26, 2003

Remarks by Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy at the Sam Rainsy Party Freedom Award Ceremony honoring U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, December 9, 2002

Communiqué to the Sam Rainsy Party, December 10, 2002

Asian Wall Street Journal op-ed: "The International Community Fails in Cambodia Again," by Senator Mitch McConnell, May 20, 2003



All text and photographs 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.