Japan donates ballot boxes worth $7.5 million for Cambodia election

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Japan donated over 10,000 ballot boxes for Cambodia’s 2018 election on Wednesday, the first international aid for the vote after European Union and the United States withdrew their support following the dissolution of the main opposition party.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Rights groups and members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have urged foreign backers, including Japan, to halt funding for Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC)following a Supreme Court decision to dissolve the CNRP at the government’s request.

But last month Japan, which is among the largest funders of Cambodia’s elections, said it would continue to provide electoral aid in the lead up to Senate elections this month and a general election in July.

At a ceremony on Wednesday, Japan’s ambassador to Cambodia, Hidehisa Horinouchi, said the NEC was in need of new ballot boxes to replace the ones given by Tokyo 20 years ago.

“These ballot boxes are a symbol of Japan’s aid for democracy in Cambodia and I hope these ballot boxes will provide lasting benefits for holding future election smoothly,” Horinouchi said. “I hope Cambodia ... achieves an election that reflects the true will of the people.”

The Japanese ballot boxes were worth $7.5 million.

“Our Japanese friends have never abandoned us,” NEC’s Chairman Sik Bun Hok told reporters on Wednesday.

The daughter of CNRP opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has been jailed on treason charges, urged Japan to explain its support for the July election.

“Japan has to explain to at least half of the entire Cambodian population why it is supporting an artificial election,” Kem Monovithya told Reuters.

Cambodia needs 30,000 ballot boxes, said Sik Bun Hok, adding that Chinese equipment for the general election, including ballot boxes and booths, was due to arrive in March.

China is Cambodia’s biggest aid donor and its backing has bolstered veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen in the face of criticism of over what his opponents say amounts to his destruction of democracy. Hun Sen is expected to extend his 33-year rule at the elections.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Michael Perry