The National Assembly on Thursday unanimously approved a proposed amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties in a move that could pave the way for former senior opposition leaders banned for five years to return to the political stage.
As expected, the 115 ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lawmakers who attended the plenary session led by National Assembly President Heng Samrin unanimously approved the amendment.
The CPP won a “landslide victory” in July’s national elections and hold all 125 seats in parliament. Prime Minister Hun Sen did not attend the meeting.
This is not the first amendment to the Law on Political Parties, which was passed in 1997. It was first amended on March 7 last year, and again on July 27 the same year.
The National Assembly said that the previous amendments aimed to “promote the duties and responsibilities of political parties in accordance with social progress”.
“An individual whose political activities have been suspended by the court cannot form a political party, join a political party, compete in elections or act to support or oppose a political party,” Article 45 states.
However, the amendment now adds: “An individual whose political activities have been suspended . . . will be able to officially have their full political rights returned after the ruling of the Supreme Court has expired or in the case that the individual’s rights are reinstated by the King after a request from the prime minister as proposed by the interior minister.”
Before the adoption, CPP lawmakers expressed their support for the amendment. Mok Mareth said the amendment had been made to promote national security.
“I totally support the amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties . . . This amendment complies with social progress in Cambodia on the principles of multi-party democracy, and it helps to ensure the promotion of national security, independence and national sovereignty, which are vital points."
“This amendment intends to reinstate the rights of politicians banned by the Supreme Court and who have not acted against the interests of Cambodia or the rule of law,” Mareth said.
Cheam Yeap, a signatory representative of the 87 lawmakers who proposed the amendment, said the move to amend the law was not influenced by pressure from the international community.
“We would like to reject the notion put forward by some groups that the amendment was made because of international pressure. In fact, the amendment is in the spirit of national unification and the mercy of the CPP, [a party] that always respects multi-party democracy,” he said.
However, acting president of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy on Thursday issued a statement calling on “patriots and democrats” to maintain their stance and “not to be scared of the threats or fall for the tricks” of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“Hun Sen does not know what to do, so he starts to additionally oppress the 118 CNRP leaders who have been banned by the Supreme Court since November 17, 2017."
“The intention of Hun Sen is to break the CNRP in order to tell the international community that some CNRP leaders have joined him. So then it will not be necessary for him to let the CNRP operate again as has been requested by the international community,” he said.
Political analyst Meas Nee said he thought the amendment to the Law on Political Parties, which could see barred politicians reinstated, was a positive development. However, he warned that frequent amendments to laws can erode their value.
“If this keeps happening, I think that in Cambodia, nothing is regular because the law is amended based on the sentiment or feeling of politicians. Frequent amendments can erode their implementation and the law loses its value,” he said.
“However, this action is a positive one and it can help in finding a solution [to problems] in Cambodia; but for the public, this amendment seems unlikely to reflect any real willingness to find a solution to the political crisis.”