The National Assembly passed two controversial election-related laws on Thursday without any debate and with a unanimous vote on most articles from the more than one hundred lawmakers that attended the session.
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers voted with the ruling Cambodian People's Party to pass a new law governing the National Election Committee and an amended election law despite widespread criticism.
Contentious provisions in the legislation, including a ban on NGOs "insulting" politicians, have sparked a fierce backlash against both parties from civil society.
"We [would prefer] everything to be perfect but we can't get success 100 per cent on our own," opposition leader Sam Rainsy told reporters at the National Assembly during a recess.
"We had to compromise and we are not 100 per cent satisfied but concessions have been made to have success for both parties," he said.
The laws were drafted by the ruling CPP and CNRP over several months following a political deal last July.
In exchange for an overhaul of the electoral system, the CNRP had agreed to end its 10-month parliamentary boycott that was launched following the disputed 2013 national election.
The laws, and the amended election law in particular, have been slammed by rights groups and election monitors for provisions that they believe will create a more restrictive election environment.
Their key concerns include provisions that would levy harsh fines on NGOs deemed to have “insulted” parties, allow political parties to be disqualified for offenses committed by individual members, and permit soldiers and court officials to campaign out of uniform.
Although a forum was hosted by the two parties last Monday to defend the laws, their most vociferous critics – a coalition of NGOs called the Electoral Reform Alliance - boycotted after labeling the event a sham.
While those who did attend, including diplomats, raised several concerns, the laws were not modified before their passage this morning.
Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Chheang Vun flatly rejected NGO criticisms of the laws today.
"Stop talking with me about [that group] of NGOs. They do not represent the majority of NGOs in Cambodia. They are just 20 to 21 NGOs among 3000 NGOs in Cambodia,” he said.
“We made these laws for the country, not for those NGOs.”