State Sen. Doug Ericksen should not be praising July's flawed elections in Cambodia, which the White House and others have condemned as undemocratic.
Washington state lawmakers should not be lending a false veneer of respectability to Cambodia’s recent national election, which most outside observers have decried as a sham.
Yet state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, doesn’t see things that way. In an interview, Ericksen — who said he was invited to observe the July 29 election by members of the Cambodian government — described the voting process there as “amazingly transparent” and “incredibly well conducted.” He said he plans to file a report relaying his sunny observations to the country’s National Election Committee, a group dominated by members of Cambodia’s ruling party.
This is far more insidious than it may seem at first glance. The very presence of elected lawmakers from the United States serving as election monitors contradicts our government’s official message that the Cambodian election was not democratic.
The U.S. government and the European Union pulled their financial support for the Cambodian election after the country’s main opposition party was dissolved late last year. Neither the United States nor the EU sent official election monitors to observe the vote, which the White House press office denounced as “neither free nor fair.” Ultimately, the results were reported as a landslide victory for the party of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985.
Ericksen should not make a bad situation worse by submitting a report that praises the election and suggests it was legitimate, despite significant evidence to the contrary.
To their credit, two state lawmakers who originally came along — state Reps. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver — cut their trip short after meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia and hearing his concerns.
Although Ericksen and Republican state Rep. Vincent Buys of Lynden were at the same meeting, Ericksen said the two of them decided to stay in Cambodia anyway.
Ericksen is a former leader of President Donald Trump’s state campaign who has previously expressed hope about receiving a federal appointment. He is running for re-election this fall. Buys, who is also up for re-election, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Cambodia’s National Election Committee has been known to recruit fake election monitors in the past to lend credibility to its elections, said Lee Morgenbesser, an assistant professor at Australia’s Griffith University who researches authoritarian regimes. The NEC is the same group Ericksen said provided him with an interpreter to take him to polling places in Phnom Penh.
“A positive assessment from an elected official in the United States would be highly sought by any dictatorship, because they could filter that opinion through state-owned and state-directed media to create an impression of the election being free and fair,” Morgenbesser wrote in an email.
Ericksen, who said he has never observed any other elections besides his own, should not have allowed himself to be used by Cambodian government in this manner.
And he certainly should not be submitting any reports that praise or validate an election that international experts have loudly denounced as illegitimate.