The ruling Cambodian People’s Party is defending the appointment of senior members of the armed forces and police to the party’s central committee following criticism from human rights groups.
Bin Chhin, a deputy prime minister and CPP standing committee member, told reporters on Friday after electoral reform talks with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party that military and police officers must remain neutral while performing their duties.
They should, however, be allowed to take part in politics “at the weekend”.
“We have just added senior armed forces officers to the CPP’s central committee, which is not illegal,” he said.
“We did not establish a branch of the political party in the armed forces.”
At an extraordinary party conference on February 1, the CPP added 306 new members to the central committee, almost a hundred of whom were senior military and police officials.
Chhin’s comments came after Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the appointments on Wednesday.
“The leaders of the army, gendarmerie, and police have long been CPP officials. Cambodia’s donors should call for an end to this practice and urge the creation of genuinely nonpartisan and professional security forces,” Brad Adams of HRW wrote. “Security force personnel can be ordinary party members, but as soon as they take a leadership role, they are crossing the line.”
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, meanwhile, followed suit after a policy meeting yesterday.
Having been criticised for lacking concrete policies on which it can campaign for the 2017 and 2018 polls, the CNRP said it would enact a law banning military involvement in politics if it came to power.
“When we lead the government, we will draft a law to keep all the armed forces independent in order to protect the interests of the nation,” spokesman Yim Sovann said. “When leaders of the armed forces are involved in politics, this is an obstacle for the promotion of human rights and democracy.”
While CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha employed grandiose language, saying the party’s political platform – under discussion since November – was “in response to the human revolution in society”, Sovann yesterday declined to comment on any other specific policies, saying they were an “internal party issue”.