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CPP lawmakers vote in favour of controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties during a National Assembly session in July. Pha Lina

Breaking: Interior Ministry files complaint to dissolve CNRP

The Interior Ministry has filed complaints to the Supreme Court asking for the Cambodia National Rescue Party to be dissolved ahead of next year’s crucial national elections.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, speaking outside a closed-door meeting of ministers and high-level commanders, today confirmed lawyer Ky Tech had taken the next step towards putting an end to the country’s main opposition party.

“Lawyer Ky Tech has filed the complaints to the Supreme Court and the complaints are to dissolve the CNRP,” he said, adding that Tech represented Interior Minister Sar Kheng on the case.

The ministry’s request is based on two complaints filed this week by the Cambodian Youth Party and royalist party Funcinpec on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively – as well as on evidence that Sopheak said had been collected over five days by ministry lawyers.

“Ky Tech and the other five lawyers have enough documents, and what I know is that they have at least 21 pieces of evidence.”

“The Ministry of Interior has done an investigation and has all the documents and gave them to the lawyer to take action, complying with the procedure.”

The Supreme Court is the highest rung in the Kingdom’s justice system, and once its decision is handed down, there is no recourse for appeal.

The potential dissolution of the party is made possible by controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties, passed first in February and again in July. The changes prohibit people with criminal convictions from holding leadership positions within the party, and further forbid parties from conspiring with criminals, using their image, or from undermining national security – a vague term whose scope legal analysts have said is problematic.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested on September 3 on charges of treason, in a case commentators widely believe is politically motivated to quash the opposition before the elections.

The CYP complaint filed earlier this week alleged Sokha “made a conspiracy with foreigners for the purpose of colour revolution”, while Funcinpec claimed the opposition head had crafted a plot to “topple the government”, and that it was “impossible to separate this crime as an individual crime of Kem Sokha and ignore the responsibility of the CNRP as a whole”.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the legal challenge to the CNRP’s existence was in accordance with the law. He added that the lack of an opposition party was not a threat to democracy in the Kingdom.

“Democracy does not allow for anyone to commit crimes – it does not pave the way or [roll out] the red carpet to act as a criminal,” he said.

The idea that the charges were spurious and politically driven was merely a “preconception” of the CNRP, he added.

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Ministry of Interior lawyers file a complaint to dissolve the CNRP at the Supreme Court on Friday. Photo supplied

Mu Sochua, who was forced to flee the country this week after she was warned of imminent arrest, said the latest blow to her party was another step in a concerted campaign to hamstring any legitimate challenger to Prime Minister Hun Sen at the polls.

“The hope for free and fair election was shattered a long time ago. This is [reaching] towards the end of the CPP’s scenario,” she said, speaking via phone from an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia.

She said the ruling party strategy included trying to drive a wedge between former party president Sam Rainsy and Sokha, and using the passage of two sets of amendments to the law to its benefit – setting into motion Rainsy’s resignation, the arrest of Sokha, and the exodus of CNRP lawmakers from the country due to heightened political pressure.

“And now dissolving the party, so what’s left?” She said if the party was dissolved, their 55 National Assembly seats and 489 commune chief positions would be stripped away.

“I don’t think the international community will remain silent. This is the tip of the iceberg. We cannot have an election without a real opposition – it’s not acceptable.”

Tech, an attorney often employed to represent ruling party officials, claimed the case to dissolve the opposition was not linked to Sokha’s case, yet, somewhat incongruously, said some of the strongest pieces of evidence involved the opposition leader’s comments in video clips that were also used to justify his arrest.

“Today’s complaint is to dissolve the CNRP and it is not related Kem Sokha who in past the authority arrested in relation to treason,” he said.

“There are three key pieces of evidence, including Kem Sokha’s remarks on behalf of the leader of the CNRP, and in this were three video clips that he said related to CNRP’s … organising plans to cooperate with foreign [powers].”

He said the relevant articles under the political party law – many of them additions rushed through by the ruling party this year – were articles 6, 7, 44 and 45. The latter two allow for the dissolution of the party and a ban on its leaders from political activities for five years.

The points under Article 6 involve conducting “sabotage that would lead to counter liberal, multi-parties democracy and constitutional monarchy”; carrying out “an activity that would affect the security of the state”; “incitement that could break the national unity”; and supporting or developing plots or conspiring with any individuals “who carry out activities aiming at opposing the interest of the Kingdom of Cambodia”.

Meanwhile, Article 7 reads: “All political parties shall not be subordinated to or under command or order of any foreign political party or any foreign government”.

Sokha, in the 2013 video circulated following his arrest, tells an audience that he received advice and support from the United States during his political career, and also refers to the Serbian approach of ousting the dictator Slobodan Milosevic. However, he also appears to distance himself from the same approach of popular protest, and advocates “not making noise” and to avoid self-destructive violence.

Tech maintained there were “strong grounds” to dissolve the party, arguing there was “undeniable” evidence of “conspiracy with foreign powers to topple the legitimate government in a colour revolution… under the pretext of positive change”.

“It can cause disaster for the country and nation, therefore we must [lodge] a complaint and dissolve [the party],” he said.

Just yesterday, the ministry warned journalists not to misreport on the Law on Political Parties, urging them to stick to the government line that “this is strictly implementation of the law” – a missive that may have been launched in preparation of the announcement of the legal case against the CNRP on Friday.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect comments from CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua and Interior Ministry lawyer Ky Tech and to clarify the length of the ministry’s investigation.
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