Prime Minister Hun Sen told banned former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) politicians to request a restoration of their political rights or miss out on the 2022 commune elections.
His comments follow the Senate’s approval on Tuesday of the amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties.
Speaking in Kandal province to more than 15,000 factory workers from 22 factories from Kandal and Kampong Speu provinces on Wednesday, Hun Sen said the Senate had passed the amendment to consolidate political unity in the country and pave the way for many of the 118 banned former CNRP politicians to return.
“We’ve heard CNRP members won’t request a return to politics, but if they don’t then they won’t be able to participate in the 2022 commune elections."
“You can choose – if you make a request, you can return to politics and have the right to resume your political activities. But if you remain banned and dare to take part in politics then you will be punished more,” he said.
The prime minister said that the amendment does not refer to any party and those who are banned cannot make a request as part of a package deal.
“When this amendment law takes effect, it does not mean they are automatically free from the ban. They must make a request one by one, not make a request as a package deal,” he said.
Explaining the process for their return, politicians can “make a request to the Ministry of Interior individually. Then the prime minister, at the recommendation of the ministry, can request for a pardon from the King”, Hun Sen said.
“Now we have paved the way. If you want to come out, you can come out, if you want to come in, you can come in. I do not force you either way,” he said.
The former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the Supreme Court in
November last year after its president Kem Sokha was charged for treason for his role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government in collaboration with foreign powers.
As a consequence, 118 CNRP politicians were also banned from participating in politics for five years.
The prime minister went on to emphasise that the CNRP as a political party will not be reinstated.
“I’ve spoken to Heng Sal [the head of the CNRP’s Kampot working group] who is organising the CNRP’s structure at commune and district level and recruiting the commune chiefs back to work."
“But please don’t hope, Heng Sal, I am speaking to you ... you are cheating, do not hope on what is hopeless . . . you are destroying your future through cheating. Those who join with the Cambodian People’s
Party [Hun Sen’s ruling party] will be allowed to compete in 2022 and will be able to stand for the CPP in elections,” Hun Sen said.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said the amendment was not necessarily a sign of progress but was an indication of Cambodia’s limited space for political freedom.
He also warned of the potential for the opposition to fracture after the amendment came into effect.
“We see that freedom of expression and political freedom remains limited,” Sovannara said.
“This law requires the opposition politicians to make a request, and when they do, it means they acknowledge their guilt and bow down to the ruling party."
“The ruling party does not have a broader view to open up political rights yet."
“We do not know how many people will make a request, but there is a possibility that the opposition party will break up because of this,” Sovannara said.