December 28, 2017 / 7:31 AM / 20 days ago

China pledges support for Cambodia election after EU, U.S. withdraw

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - China will provide equipment for Cambodia’s 2018 election, including ballot boxes and booths, an official said on Thursday, the first such pledge from abroad since the European Union and the United States withdrew their support.

China is Cambodia’s biggest foreign donor. The two countries have become increasingly close amid an ongoing crackdown by Cambodia’s government on critics, civil society groups and independent media that rights group say amounts to the destruction of democracy.

The European Union and the United States withdrew their backing for the election after a court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November at the government’s request.

In 2016 China, which has contributed to Cambodian elections since the reinstatement of national polls in 1993, donated vehicles and other supplies worth some $11 million.

Hang Puthea, spokesman for the National Election Commission, said China would provide 30 different types of equipment.

“This equipment is very important for processing the election,” Hang Puthea told Reuters.

In a document on Wednesday, the NEC said China pledged the equipment on Tuesday, saying it would provide laptops, computers and voting booths, among other items.

“China promised to give more aid to the NEC to manage the election in order to have a good process, accuracy, transparency and accountability,” the NEC said.

Reuters was not immediately able to contact China’s embassy in Phnom Penh for comment.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than 30 years, vowed on Wednesday to stay in power for at least another decade.

The European Union and Japan have been the biggest donors to Cambodia’s election commission. Japan has said it will continue to give help.

Reporting by Chansy Chhorn in PHNOM PENH; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie

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