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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP rewrites rules again, with amendments planned to political laws to redistribute CNRP seats

CNRP President Kem Sokha (centre, red tie), former president Sam Rainsy (centre right), and 53 other opposition lawmakers attend the party's first session of parliament in 2014. The ruling CPP is now putting forward legal changes that would allow the National Assembly to redistribute the party's seats in the event it is dissolved.
CNRP President Kem Sokha (centre, red tie), former president Sam Rainsy (centre right), and 53 other opposition lawmakers attend the party's first session of parliament in 2014. The ruling CPP is now putting forward legal changes that would allow the National Assembly to redistribute the party's seats in the event it is dissolved. AFP

CPP rewrites rules again, with amendments planned to political laws to redistribute CNRP seats

The Cambodian People’s Party is rewriting the nation’s political laws yet again, this time to allow the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s 55 parliamentary seats to be dished out to minor parties – with royalist Funcinpec the main beneficiary in the sweep – in the event the CNRP is dissolved.

A set of “urgent” draft amendments to the Law on Elections of Members of the National Assembly were leaked on CNRP Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang’s Facebook page yesterday, with an assembly official confirming that the ruling party was readying changes to it and three other laws. The ruling party has already unilaterally changed the Kingdom’s Law on Political Parties twice this year, both times to include new provisions hobbling the CNRP.

Under the current law, the CNRP’s empty National Assembly seats would be absorbed by the CPP, which would then wield absolute control over all 123 seats until the July 2018 election.

Instead, the proposed changes suggest divvying up the seats to parties that ran in the previous election, but do not currently hold any elected lawmaker positions.

The draft gave a modified formula for calculating the allocation of seats. Applying that formula to the 2013 election results, Funcinpec would take the bulk of the seats, with 41, while the League for Democracy Party (LDP) would take six. The Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP) would be awarded five seats, while the Cambodian Nationality Party would take two and the tiny Khmer Economic Development Party (KEDP) would be awarded one.

While the CNRP won more than 44 percent of the popular vote in 2013 – compared to the CPP’s 48 percent – Funcinpec took only 3 percent, and the LDP just 1 percent. The other parties all won less than 1 percent.

CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua, who fled the country last week after being warned of her imminent arrest, said the CPP’s proposed actions “robbed democracy at every level”.

“This is a constitutional coup as these seats represent the will of the people that need[s] to be respected and protected,” she said in a message.

CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath agreed, saying the move amounted to a “betrayal of the people who voted”.

“It is the act of distributing Cambodians’ will, like sharing a cake,” he said.

The very same proposed seat breakdown was listed in an eerily prescient anonymous opinion piece published last week by government mouthpiece Fresh News, which floated the option even before the Ministry of Interior filed a complaint to the Supreme Court seeking the party’s dissolution on Friday.

Similar pieces on the pro-ruling party site have preceded the “treason” case against CNRP leader Kem Sokha and the expulsion of NGO the National Democratic Institute.

The provinces where the CNRP enjoyed the biggest victories – Kampong Cham (10 seats), Phnom Penh (seven), and Kandal and Prey Veng (six apiece) – would face the biggest shake-ups, with their representation to be spread across five parties.

The seats must be filled within a week of the CNRP’s theoretical dissolution, and if a party is unable to fill them, the National Election Committee will decide which party will hold them.

CNRP member Eng Chhay Eang speaks at a meeting at the Party headquarters last year in Phnom Penh.
CNRP member Eng Chhay Eang speaks at a meeting at the Party headquarters last year in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Chhay Eang’s Facebook post said the ruling party also planned to change three other laws to alter the make-up of the Senate, and commune and district councils, but he did not provide those documents or respond to requests for comment.

Funcinpec spokesman Nheb Bun Chin – who on Monday said his party had also filed a complaint to dissolve the CNRP because “they took all my supporters” – yesterday promised to act according to “mutual interests”.

“We cannot [make a] prediction at this time, but if we are holding 55 seats like the CNRP, we will use this important task to serve our nation and people of Cambodia in a very useful way,” he said.

“We have to comply by the state of law, play by [the rules of] the game, and now the rules have improved.”

Critics have suggested the royalist party has sold out its democratic ideals to claw its way back to relevance, having slipped almost entirely off Cambodia’s political radar since its 1990s heyday.

“To be frank, to answer your question, we don’t understand. We are not in the game,” Bun Chin said.

The requested changes to the four laws will be reviewed by the National Assembly’s permanent committee on Thursday, and sent on to its technical committee, according to the body’s spokesman, Peng Long.

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said the legislative step was a cosmetic change in a bid to save face.

“The CPP knows that having all 123 MP seats would look particularly unseemly and undermine their efforts to create an illusion of legitimacy for this power grab,” he said.

“Sadly, there is no shortage of political opportunists in Funcinpec and other small parties ready to lend their names and logos in exchange for the perks on offer to join this illegitimate effort.”

“Cambodia’s national assembly is moving to resemble a political puppet show, with PM Hun Sen as the puppeteer determining who remains in the play and who gets the hook to yank them off the stage.”

CPP spokesman Suos Yara, however, disagreed, saying the CNRP boycotted parliament so often that the CPP was a “de-facto” single party parliament.

“It looks bad, but as long as you are not bad, it’s fine,” he said.

“Cambodia’s multiparty democracy will move ahead whether or not CNRP is dissolved,” he added in a message. “After a super storm there will be sunshine. Currently we are witnessing a correction in our democratic process. It is temporary and normality will resume in due course.”

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