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Prime Minister Hun Sen shares a laugh with lawmakers at a session of parliament in February that approved controversial changes to the Law on Political Parties.
Prime Minister Hun Sen shares a laugh with lawmakers at a session of parliament in February that approved controversial changes to the Law on Political Parties. Pha Lina

Changes to party law ban convicts

The National Assembly’s permanent committee will today schedule a plenary session of parliament to debate and vote on laws that would ban the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party from associating with its former leader Sam Rainsy, or ever using images of his face, recordings of his voice or his written materials.

Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said proposed changes to the Political Parties Law had been submitted by the Cambodian People’s Party, whose lawmakers in February changed the law to force Rainsy to resign as CNRP leader or else have the party dissolved due to his criminal convictions.

The changes, a copy of which was obtained yesterday, would ban 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”.

The changes proposed by the ruling party would also ban parties from “supporting or organising any plans or conspiracies with any individual to undertake any actions against the interest of the Kingdom of Cambodia”, and from using a party name or acronym that is similar to any other party.

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 proposed changes say.

The amendments were ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen during a speech at the CPP’s celebrations last week to mark 66 years since its founding as Cambodia’s communist party, with the prime minister ruing that Rainsy had continued to campaign against his party from abroad since February, despite having been compelled to resign after the last round of amendments.

“We are not afraid of you,” Hun Sen said, in an apparent reference to Rainsy’s daily Facebook posts detailing the CPP’s history and criticising its policies and record, “but we do not want you to make disorder.”

Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks at an interview with Radio France International in Paris last week. Facebook
Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks at an interview with Radio France International in Paris last week. Facebook

Chheang Vun, spokesman for the CPP’s 68 assembly members, declined to comment on the proposed changes yesterday. Rainsy, who has lived in self-imposed exile in France since November 2015 to avoid facing prison time in Cambodia, did not respond to requests for comment about the proposed changes.

However, CNRP deputy leader Eng Chhay Eang – a member of the assembly’s permanent committee and a close associate of Rainsy who became a CNRP deputy president after Rainsy resigned – said the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers were considering boycotting any session seeking to pass such changes.

“This law is bad for Cambodians, because we [should] make laws to have national unity. If we make laws to split up or eliminate people from the political scene, this is not a good thing for a developing country,” Chhay Eang said. “The developed countries have never made such laws as this one.”

Kem Sokha – who with Rainsy formed the CNRP as a united opposition party after leading their competing Human Rights and Sam Rainsy parties to massive losses in 2008 and 2012 – has served as the CNRP’s formal leader since Rainsy resigned in February.

Both leaders have experienced issues with party laws in the past. Rainsy was forced to abandon his Khmer Nation Party, formed by the ousted finance minister in opposition to the CPP-Funcinpec coalition in 1995, following a lawsuit by a pro-CPP politician.

Sokha also saw his Buddhist Liberal Democracy Party dissolved in 1997 after a split with fellow BLDP lawmaker and pro-CPP Information Minister Ieng Mouly that was believed to be engineered by Hun Sen.

Cham Bunthet, a political analyst and adviser to the Grassroots Democracy Party, said that the changes were “too much” and, if ever implemented, would only worsen Cambodia’s divisive and fragile political scene. He also said he did not believe it would have its intended effect of sidelining Rainsy.

“This will make Sam Rainsy more popular and make the situation in Cambodia even worse,” Bunthet said, explaining that whatever credibility the former opposition leader had lost by fleeing arrest threats from Hun Sen would now be recouped with the government showing it feared him.

“Sam Rainsy’s popularity seemed to have declined already after several losses of his credibility with his followers, but this threat will help automatically strengthen his popularity.”

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