Knocking back the opposition’s request for a postponement, the National Assembly’s ruling party-controlled permanent committee yesterday set Monday for a vote on controversial changes to the 1997 Law on Political Parties.
The sweeping amendments, which critics say could be used to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party under a variety of pretexts, were submitted by 60 Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers following a request by Prime Minister Hun Sen to rewrite the law to bar convicts from political leadership and dissolve parties if their leaders are convicted of crimes.
After an almost one-hour meeting, 10 CPP representatives on the committee ruled to hold an extraordinary plenary session next week for a vote, overriding the requests by two CNRP parliamentarians for a six-month delay.
Referring to the National Assembly as a “democratic forum”, CPP spokesman Chheang Vun called on CNRP lawmakers, whom he referred to as “our dialogue partners”, to attend the session.
Vun, however, noted the CPP held a majority and could pass the law regardless. CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said members would meet on Sunday to decide whether to attend. “We will consider [joining] if the session includes a debate to change some points,” he said.
Fellow CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann said the opposition wanted, at the very least, to organise a seminar for stakeholders to help “improve the legislation”.
The premier’s threat to dissolve parties for crimes committed by leaders prompted Sam Rainsy on Saturday to resign as CNRP president and leave the party.
The legislation proposed on Monday, however, goes further, allowing authorities to dissolve political parties that violate a law or threaten the “security of the state” or “national unity”.
It also bars convicted criminals from holding leadership positions.
As Vann noted yesterday, several members of the opposition’s leadership group remain under legal clouds.
Citing political tensions and the fast-approaching June commune elections, he urged the CPP to reconsider.
“We should wait until the election is finished,” Vann said. “When the atmosphere is good, we can come together and talk together to amend this law with both parties.”