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Cambodians have mixed views on US election

Tourists walk along the street during the Water Festival in Phnom Penh today. KT/ Khem Sovannara. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

PHNOM PENH, Nov 6, 2020, Khmer Times. Forget about the news stories about the protests in Thailand or the issue of nuclear weapons in North Korea. Like many other people across the globe, Cambodian people have now glued themselves to the United States presidential election when it comes to international politics, Khmer Times reported.

From coffee shops to government offices, you can clearly hear the intense discussion, or even arguments, about who will and should become the next US president – whether the incumbent Donald Trump from the Republican Party or former Vice-President Joe Biden from the Democratic Party.

At the King Kong Fitness Centre in Phnom Penh, bodybuilder Hy Dy Narin clearly showed who he would like to win the US election half a world away from Cambodia.

“He knows he will lose the election, so he wants the vote counting to be stopped,” Narin said, referring to Trump.

Like the bodybuilder, Mey Lyda said she would like to see Biden become the next president of the US.

“For me, I think Biden will win, because Trump has done nothing with COVID-19. So, people will vote to change their leader,” she wrote on her Facebook.

However, not all Cambodians wish to see Biden become the next US president and they hope Trump will win the second term.

“I’m not sure Biden will win. During the previous election, Hillary Clinton was expected to win, but Donald Trump became the winner instead,” Seng Sokchea said as Mean Chhengly replied: “I take Trump because his language is cool and arrogant.”

“The world congratulates Trump to retain the White House in the second term,” Prince Sisowath Chakrey wrote in a comment.

Like other nationalities, some Cambodians also took a neutral stance and do not care who will win the tight US election.

“Some people are worried that those who care too much about US politics or elections may have no food to eat. So, they better think about their cooking pots instead,” journalist Vann Vichar said.

“Between Trump and Biden, they may take the penalty kick to decide who will win,” a Facebook user posted, likening the US presidential race to an American football match.

Meanwhile, a Cambodian official and an expert on international politics, predicted that the results of the US election would have little effect on Cambodia.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that any US president would treat Cambodia and other small countries around the world similarly.

“The foreign policies of the US will not change much,” said Siphan. “Whoever becomes the next president of the US, we will continue working with them.”

He said the government didn’t want to interfere in the internal affairs of the US and its politics.

“We respect the will of the American people and we don’t oppose their will,” Siphan said. “It’s the decision of the American people and nothing to do with the Cambodian people. Whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump wins, they will be our friends.”

He noted that the Republican and the Democratic parties had slightly different priorities in terms of what they would do after winning an election.

He said the Democrat Party would focus more on social work inside the country, whereas the Republican Party would care more about foreign policies and take care of their marketplace.

“Whether the Democratic Party or the Republican Party wins the election, they need to do a lot of work and most vigorously and carefully to unite the American nation,” Siphan said, adding: “We have seen that there has been a lot of fracturing in [American] society and nation during this election.”

Though the result of the US election has little to do with Cambodians, Siphan said it did matter to the Cambodian Americans.

He said there are two groups of Cambodians living in the US with some former members and supporters of the Khmer Republic government (the early 1970s) supporting the Republican Party, which has the same name, regardless of its policies.

“But, those who did social work loved the Democrats, because Democrats spend a lot of money on social work,” he said.

Regarding the foreign policies of the US, Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the results of the US elections might have an impact on Cambodia and other countries.

“When a new president takes office in the US, both the internal policies and the US policies abroad can change. For instance, during his presidency, Donald Trump adhered to the ‘America First’ policy. He cares more about America and he does not care about outside allies such as the process of democracy and human rights,” Phea said.

If the Democratic Party wins the election, Phea said the foreign policies of the US would change a little bit.

“More or less, it will influence other countries, including Cambodia. When Joe Biden takes power, he may pay attention to the process of democracy outside the US, including Cambodia,” Phea said.

He said that any US government would continue the false allegation regarding the US claim that China has been building a military base in Cambodia.

“The stance of the US may not change. It is a [false] idea they have created and staged. Therefore, whoever the [US] government brings to power, they will continue with this idea. Whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump takes the White House, they will continue to put this label on Cambodia,” Phea said.

Meanwhile, he said that the Cambodian people should not care too much about US politics and elections.

“I think that whichever president comes to power, it’s always for the sake of the US and not for the sake of Cambodia. So, we should not take sides too strongly,” Phea said.

Of course, whether Trump or Biden gets elected, the 46th president of the United States will have a tremendous task to deal with.

For better or worse, the Cambodian people and the government also have far more important issues to tackle after the Kingdom has been hit by three heavy blows – the partial suspension of Everything But Arms trade status, the impact of COVID-19 and the recent flash floods that have seriously damaged road infrastructure and crops.

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