Cambodia's National Assembly swiftly passed controversial new laws this morning to effectively ban former opposition leader Sam Rainsy from the political arena, and to forbid the Cambodia National Rescue Party from using his near-ubiquitous image in their campaign material and logos.
The amendments to the Law on Political Parties are the second round of changes to the legislation this year, following an earlier amendment forcing Rainsy to resign as the president of the CNRP in February to avoid the possible dissolution of the party, just months ahead of the bellwether commune elections.
At around 9:30am, the amendments were passed at the National Assembly with 66 votes. The CNRP, which holds 55 seats to the ruling Cambodian People's Party’s 68, boycotted the vote.
The law bans parties from “using the voice, image, written documents or activities of a convicted criminal … for the interests of the party”, and from “accepting or conspiring with a convicted criminal to do activities in the interests of the party”. Currently Rainsy appears - along with party President Kem Sokha - on thousands of party billboards across the country, and is a regular speaker, via Skype, at opposition events.
The new law also prevents political parties from “supporting or organising any plans or conspiracies with any individual to undertake any actions against the interest of the Kingdom of Cambodia”. Any parties who violate the law could be banned from political activities for five years and disallowed from competing in elections, or even dissolved, the amendments say.
Rainsy, who is currently in self-imposed exile in France, yesterday took to Facebook to condemn the latest changes, branding them the “Anti-Sam Rainsy Law”.
“It's really silly on the part of Prime Minister Hun Sen to order his yes-men at the rubber-stamp National Assembly to produce a ‘law’ that just targets one single person,” he wrote.
“It's now clear for the public that Hun Sen is afraid of me – his best enemy – to the extent that only my name or my photo or my voice or my shadow or any representation of me causes him insomnia.”
“However, I am concerned that my like-minded CNRP former colleagues, all government critics and all Cambodian democrats will be held hostages by the authoritarian CPP-led government so as to silence me but I will resist blackmail and, at the same time, do my best to ensure that I will be the only person they will blame and want to punish.”
The laws still must be approved by the Senate and the Constitutional Council, a process which has often been characterised as a mere “rubber stamp”, before they are signed by the King into law.