Drawing inspiration from now-defunct articles of the Thai constitution, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday he was looking to introduce punitive measures that would dissolve political parties for any wrongdoing committed by individual members.
During a marathon speech at a graduation ceremony on Koh Pich, Hun Sen said he wanted to amend the 1997 Law on Political Parties, asking relevant government officials to hastily convene a meeting yesterday and deliberate changes that would punish an errant party’s leadership and “teach them a lesson”.
“I think that we should follow Thailand. If one has committed a serious crime, the party must be dissolved so that the one will not be so troublesome anymore,” he said.
Hun Sen was referring to Thailand’s 2007 constitution, which was voided after the 2014 coup. That document stipulates that if a member of a political party commits an illegal act, and there is proof that the party’s executive committee was aware, the party is to be dissolved and all committee members banned from politics for five years.
Hun Sen also reiterated a desire to introduce restrictions on convicted individuals from holding any party posts, a thinly veiled reference to exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy that he first floated in a speech on Tuesday.
“I am not kidding, I will do it. Look at it and then make the decision [at the meeting],” he said. “After that, make a petition and propose it to the National Assembly.”
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan confirmed that a meeting was underway yesterday evening, adding that government lawyers, representatives from the ministries of justice and interior, as well as the Constitutional Council were looking into Hun Sen’s request.
“If we think about the time, it has been 20 years [since the 1997 Law on Political Parties was passed],” he said. “There are problems that happened recently, so we need to include the recent the problems into the meaning of the law for it to be effective.”
Eysan denied that the amendments were solely directed at Sam Rainsy and the opposition, saying it was applicable to all political parties. “He [Rainsy] is guilty, but the change of the law is not solely for him, but for other directors or deputy directors of parties,” he said.
CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said he expected the Cambodian public to see the move for what it was, and that the premier was free to do whatever he pleased. “There is no point in worrying. In short, it is useless, because we can do nothing to prevent it,” he said.
Chhay Eang added that if the amendments were to be made to the Political Party Law, it would only be a “backward step” for Cambodian democracy.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch in Bangkok, said that if the prime minister introduced legislation similar to Thailand’s “rotten apple” law, the “days of real democracy in Cambodia” would be numbered.
“Every day it appears that the way that Hun Sen intends to win the 2018 elections is by intimidation and abuses designed to clear the field of any challengers before the election campaign even starts,” he said.
In the past 12 months, five members of the CNRP – Rainsy, Um Sam Ath, Hong Sok Hour, Thak Lany and Kem Sokha – have been convicted, with Robertson maintaining the premier’s proposed changes were directed directly at the CNRP.
“Quite clearly, Hun Sen’s take away from the 2013 election was to leave nothing to chance next time around, and in his world view that apparently means using the laws to obliterate the opposition,” he said.