The ruling Cambodian People’s Party and representatives of the Senate and National Assembly traded barbs over the weekend with the recently dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party – with each side accusing the other of undermining democracy.
On Friday, the CNRP criticised the National Election Committee’s forwarding to the National Assembly of candidate lists from each party eligible to receive the now-defunct opposition party’s 55 seats.
The CNRP’s elected lawmakers are “still the legal representatives of the voters”, the statement reads, a right that can only be withdrawn “through ballot in free, fair, and just elections”.
The party added that Cambodia could “fall into sanctions” should the political course fail to change – a threat the CPP latched onto in dismissing the recently shuttered opposition.
“The CPP wishes to condemn any person who tries to use peaceful people as hostages by governing the foreigners to put sanctions on the country to serve their interests,” the statement reads.
A National Assembly and Senate joint declaration on Friday, meanwhile, said that the two institutions remained the “representatives for all Khmers and voters”, despite the fact that elected CNRP members of the Assembly have been ousted, as have the opposition commune councillors who would have voted on Senate appointments early next year.
“The Assembly . . . wishes to clarify our stance to continue to promote liberal, multi-party democracy and to respect human rights and rule of law.”
The joint statement then brushed off international criticism of the recent crackdown, classifying it as “interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs”, specifically pointing at the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the US Senate. It also compared jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha to former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is under investigation for allegedly colluding with Russia before the 2016 election.
On November 16, the US Senate passed a resolution condemning “all forms of political violence in Cambodia” and urged the Department of the Treasury to consider imposing visa bans and freezing assets of senior government officials.
The IPU, a body with 178 parliamentarians from different countries, also criticised the dissolution of the party.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said pretentions of “multi-party democracy”, as espoused in the joint Assembly and Senate statement, are laughable.
“For the CPP, rule of law means ‘whatever we say it is’ and multi-party democracy translates to ‘us and a bunch of small parties we control.’ It’s a wonder that the CPP can put these kinds of statements out and maintain a straight face because it’s so ludicrous that it really has become dark comedy,” he said.
Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski