Questions raised over Washington state lawmakers’ visit to Cambodia to observe elections

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Vithara Keo

Aug 5, 2018, 9:04:20 PM8/5/18

OLYMPIA — By the time they sat down with the U.S. ambassador in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh last week, Washington state Reps. Drew MacEwen and Brandon Vick already felt trepidation about their trip during the country’s elections.

The two Republican lawmakers say they, along with another state legislator, were invited by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, to observe Cambodia’s July 29 elections.

But since they’d arrived, Vick, from Vancouver, learned that a resolution had passed the U.S. House threatening to sanction Cambodia’s authoritarian regime over the  upcoming vote. The government, ruled by Prime Minister Hun Sen since the mid-1980s, had broken up the opposition party and cracked down on news organizations in the country.

MacEwen, from Union, Mason County, said he’d talked informally with some Cambodian citizens, and “you could see that there was not a lot of enthusiasm for the legitimacy of the election.”

And then the ambassador “expressed grave concerns” about the vote, MacEwen said. As he left the meeting, MacEwen said he turned to Vick and said, “Well, I’m out.”

Vick agreed. They both cut the trip short and returned home.

The visit by Washington state lawmakers to Cambodia has raised questions about whether they were being used to legitimize an authoritarian government’s false elections.

Gov. Jay Inslee this week wrote the lawmakers to express concerns about the trip, as well as a visit in May to the country by Ericksen and other lawmakers. During that earlier trip, the legislators were reportedly asked to return as election monitors.

Last weekend’s vote in the Southeast Asian country has been widely regarded as a sham election.

The Cambodian government had banned opposition leaders from holding office and expelled other members from elected positions, The Associated Press reported. The regime closed about 30 radio stations, cracked down on two independent English-language newspapers, and blocked more than a dozen websites just ahead of the polls.

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