Massachusetts Bill to Promote Free and Fair Election in Cambodia

Lowell, MA – Senator Edward Kennedy attended a Cambodian American community meeting in Lowell on March 3 to speak about a bill which he filed to condemn political oppression and encourage free and fair election in Cambodia, bill S. 2406 was also co-sponsored by Representative Vanna Howard. Watch it in video here.

Lowell elected officials who were present included Councilman-at-large Vesna Nuon and Councilman-at-large John Drinkwater, 5th district councilor Kim Scott, and 2nd district councilor Corey Robinson. Lynn Councilman-at-large Hong Net was also present and supports the bill.

State Senator Ed Kennedy speaks at Olympic Restaurant 3/3/2022

Several state legislators have signed on, including Vice Chair Peter Capano, Committee of Veterans and Federal Affairs, Rep Daniel Cahill from 10th Essex, Senators James Eldridge Middlesex and Worcester district, and Senator Brendan Crighton of Third Essex. The bill had a hearing on January 7, 2022 by the Committee of Veterans and Federal Affairs, which many Cambodians registered to testify, and was favorably recommended out from the committee.

Senator Edward Kennedy said he spoke with Senate President and is confident the bill would pass in the Senate. However, “I would like you to do some lobbying the House of Representative, you can call them, even if they’re not your state representatives.” The Bill he filed twice, the first time was late in the session, there wasn’t enough time to get through the legislative process.

“I think it’s important for people to weight in for the free and fair election in Cambodia, particularly, the city of Lowell has the highest Cambodian population in all of Massachusetts, other legislators still can sign on to co-sponsor the bill,” Senator Kennedy said.

Hong Net said he is proud that state legislators in his district of Lynn, another large Cambodian community in the Commonwealth, has supported the bill. On the other hand, Dominik Lay, a Lowell School Committee member said, “I’m deeply disappointed that not all Lowell’s delegations have signed on to support the bill.”

Khmer Post USA has reached out to Representative Rady Mom of 18th Middlesex District –Lowell, asking whether he supports the bill, there is no reply.

In 1991 the Paris Peace Agreement ended over 10 years of Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and established free and fair election. However, the ruling party, a member of the Khmer Rouge continues to control the country for more than 30 years.

Councilor Vesna Nuon who played a vital role with Congresswoman Lori Trahan in helping to draft the “Cambodia Democracy Act” and introducing the motion in the city council to support that bill, which passed unanimous in 2018, said, “We’re elected to serve everyone in City of Lowell, but our American values isn’t just in Lowell, American values is broader, wherever you are.”

Vesna Nuon, Lowell Councilman-at-Large, is one of the few Cambodian American elected officials who is outspoken about the deteriorating democracy in Cambodia. Screenshot from KhmerPostUSA Youtube Channel.

He cited a recent President Biden’s State of the Union Address about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ‘America stands to bullies. We stand for freedom. That’s who we are.’ “And that’s who we all should be” Nuon added.

“I am involved in it because I am a victim of the Khmer Rouge like most of my Cambodian fellows here, I came here because of democracy, human rights, and freedom.”

“You have a State Senator, he feels our pains, so he stands up to support. This is what we are elected to do. In city council alike, we want them to feel the pain of the people,” said Nuon.

The event was well attended by over 40 people including members of Latino community and concerned citizens. Notably absent from the meeting were Cambodian Americans, City of Lowell Mayor Sokhary Chau and district 7 Councilor Paul Ratha Yem.

Hun Sen, a Cambodian authoritarian ruler since 1985, managed to keep tight lease on his opposition for a long time until he finally dissolved the opposition party CNRP 2017 when it came to close winning. The CNRP elected 45% of parliament members in 2013 election and close to 50% of the commune councilors in 2017, causing many of their parliament members to live in exile, unable to return to Cambodia to serve.

Susie In-Chhuon, an activist said “America is the founding father of democracy, and human rights, that’s what we need to continue to embrace, not just in our city but nationwide and worldwide. This bill would help us deeply, I ask you and I urge you to help us.”

The United States Congress passed the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2021 and Cambodia Trade Act of 2019 in attempt to put pressure the Cambodia government to open civic and political space through economic sanctions. The bill has been introduced in the Senate by U.S. Ed Markey and it is currently in the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Cambodian government has hired a political lobby firm in Washington for $60,000 a month to lobby U.S lawmakers, in what is called “strengthen the bilateral relationship.”

Cambodia depends heavily on the U.S. for economic trade while its government goes to Beijing for political friendship. The United States government has raised serious concern over this and have placed an arms embargo on General Hun Manet’s military in December and sanctioned a number of Cambodian top officials for corruptions and human rights abuses. Many Cambodian diaspora have organized demonstrations to reject Chinese military presence in Cambodia.

“85% of them (Cambodian descent) living in Lowell still feel this pain today, that’s why we need all the help we can get to get this bill passed. Send them a message, Nuon said. “we want free and fair election, everywhere,” said Nuon.

Watch the meeting on KhmerPost USA YouTube Channel here: