Civil society groups had called on three former prime ministers to back their push for term limits to be added to the constitution, but only one, a bitter rival of Prime Minister Hun Sen, joined them yesterday at the National Assembly to launch the campaign.
Pen Sovann, who served briefly as Cambodia’s first prime minister following the toppling of the Khmer Rouge before being purged and jailed in Hanoi, currently sits in the National Assembly with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
He said the lack of term limits had allowed Hun Sen to become a dictator.
“Our Khmer natural resources are now exhausted, because he is a dictator and did not ask for the opinions of lower-level officials. If he remains in office, our Khmer country will fall into a death hole,” he said.
The push to impose a two-term, or 10-year, limit on prime ministers has been spearheaded by election watchdog Comfrel, which said yesterday that it had collected petitions from more than 1,000 civil society representatives and politicians supporting the endeavour.
“This is just the first step. We will deliver these petitions to the National Assembly presidents, deputy presidents and Samdech Prime Minister. And especially we will send them to all 123 lawmakers so all of them know … that people support this,” Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said.
He added that the campaign’s aim was to persuade lawmakers to support term limits before constitutional amendments are made in October for a new National Election Committee.
The group had also invited former prime ministers Ung Huot and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, but neither attended.
Ranariddh said yesterday that while he supported term limits, he was not optimistic that the initiative would obtain the required two-thirds parliamentary approval. “In principle, I support this,” he said.
Ranariddh confirmed he would not attend another press conference on September 9 because the decision to impose term limits would be up to the political parties.
Huot could not be reached yesterday, but according to Comfrel, he will attend next week’s event.