Interior Minister Sar Kheng said on Thursday that the reinstatement of opposition leader Kem Sokha’s political rights, which would open the door for his possible return to the political stage, was purely dependent on legal proceedings as his court case is ongoing.
“We must look to the original problem – why [Kem Sokha] was arrested by the police and detained. We must look at the reasons [why]. [But] his legal case hasn’t come to a conclusion yet, so he is still subject to court proceedings,” Sar Kheng said.
Speaking to reporters after a National Assembly session on Thursday, he was responding to a question on whether a law change, likely to be signed off soon by King Norodom Sihamoni, could see Sokha back in politics.
Sokha, the president of the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), is currently on court-supervised bail at his home in Phnom Penh awaiting trial on treason charges.
Sar Kheng also said that the Ministry of Interior has not received any pardon requests from barred CNRP politicians as the amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties is yet to come into effect.
“Not yet, because the amendment has not yet been signed off by the King. When it has been announced that the law has come into effect, then we will know,” the Interior Minister said.
Sar Kheng’s comments were in relation to last Friday’s ruling by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC) – the nine-member institution charged with assessing the constitutionality of new laws – which stated that the amendment complied with the Constitution.
The amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties is now at the final stage and is awaiting the signature of the King.
Kong Kimhak, a former CNRP lawmaker, said the political situation is “changing fast”, and if barred opposition officials returning to politics after the law change comes into effect helped resolve the Kingdom’s political crisis, he welcomed such a positive development.
“We wait and see together because the political situation at the moment is changing fast. It is a positive sign if these changes can resolve the political crisis in our country,” he said.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said the law change would give more power to the prime minister in being able to decide the fate of those who had been banned.
“We wait until the King grants the pardons, but this happens only at the request of the prime minister, so we need to wait to see what the prime minister does. It is a political move, but it is also a way to solve the political impasse,” he said.
On December 26, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the former CNRP politicians banned from politics by the Supreme Court in November 2017 wouldn’t be able to request the return of their rights as a group. Instead, the process would have to be done individually.
Those pardoned by the King will be eligible to run in the 2022 commune elections.
The National Assembly passed the proposed amendment on December 13, with the Senate approving it on December 25.
The amendment will add to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties: “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.”
On December 4, Sar Kheng said the majority of former CNRP officials banned by the courts from engaging in political activities for five years might be able to resume their political careers, provided they had been deemed to have obeyed the court ruling.
On November 16, 2017, the Supreme Court announced its verdict ordering the disbanding of the CNRP and banning 118 of its senior officials from any political activity in the Kingdom for five years.
The ruling came after a complaint filed by the Ministry of Interior that the CNRP was attempting to overthrow the government through a “colour revolution” aided by the US.
The amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties was proposed by 87 ruling Cambodian People’s Party members of the National Assembly on December 3.