The change to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties has gone into effect after King Norodom Sihamoni signed off on the amendment on Sunday.
It gives the prime minister the power to request the return of political rights to those banned by the courts before the term is up. The Post received a copy of the amendment to Article 45 on Tuesday.
It states: “The individual who was banned from politics by the court can attain the return of their full political rights after the end of the ban duration as stated in the Supreme Court ruling, or that individual can get rehabilitation from the King through the request of the prime minister following a request from the minister of interior.”
The law change paves the way for the 118 opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) politicians banned by the Supreme Court to have their political rights returned more than a year after their party was dissolved on November 16, 2017.
The dissolution of the CNRP came two months after its president Kem Sokha was charged with treason.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the amendment became effective immediately after it was signed by the King.
He said the law change gives power to the prime minister in deciding who should receive political rehabilitation, even without the request of the banned individual themselves.
“The article states that to get their rights back, the prime minister has to make a request to the King with the Ministry of Interior as the handling body for the premier."
“It is the decision of the prime minister who should and should not make a request. He can decide whether or not a request to him is required [to petition] the King,” he said.
Malin explained that the Ministry of Interior would evaluate individuals based on whether they had been deemed to have respected the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The prime minister can also identify who had fulfilled the required conditions and respected the ruling of the courts and who had not.
“The law gives the right to the prime minister in making a request to the King for political rehabilitation. Therefore, the prime minister can make a request for anyone in accordance with this privilege. So he can decide whether to let them make a request to him or to the Ministry of Interior for review,” he said.
Kong Korm, the former advisor to the CNRP and one of the 118, told The Post on Tuesday that he would submit a request to the Ministry of Interior on Wednesday.
“I will submit a request to Ministry of Interior with a copy to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet,” he said, adding that after receiving the return of his political rights, he would support the Khmer Will Party founded by his son Kong Monika.
Kong Bora, one of the 118 and another of Kong Korm’s sons, could not be reached for comment. However, reports said he would also submit a request on Wednesday as well.
Ou Chanrath, one of the banned CNRP lawmakers, said on Tuesday that the new law would only bring positive effects if it granted the return of political rights to the banned opposition politicians as a group. He said this was justified as the Supreme Court had banned them as a group.
“We have seen the efforts made by the government and the National Assembly to push for the amendment to this law. If the law paves the way for opposition politicians to return to politics, this is a positive step towards a political solution. But if the law is out there and no politicians make a request, their efforts will seem useless in seeking such a solution,” he said.
Chanrath said it would be the best option for the Ministry of Interior to prepare a list of opposition politicians considered suitable and submit it to the prime minister.
“If the Ministry of Interior doesn’t prepare such a list, I believe the political situation will remain as it is, and this would bring disgrace on the government’s efforts."
“If the Ministry of Interior prepares [rehabilitation] as a list, I would accept it. But if it requires my letter of request, it is a difficult thing to do,” he said.
Mao Monyvann, another banned CNRP lawmaker, said he “didn’t care” about the law change as it had “been made according to the [government’s] needs.”
“I hold firm to my stance that what is important is the solution releasing Kem Sokha and dropping the charge against him. Then we will consider a return to politics. If the party leader cannot lead the party, we cannot be involved in politics,” he added.
Ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan said after the amendment was signed: “The law is now in effect. Only the willingness of the individual politician is left . . . whether they want to request a return to politics or not.
“If they believe convict Sam Rainsy, they will lose. If they are self-confident, there is another way forward.”