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Breaking: National Assembly passes election law amendments to allow CNRP seat distribution

CPP lawmakers vote on controversial legal amendments in the National Assembly this morning. The vote paves the way for the opposition CNRP’s seats to be redistributed.
CPP lawmakers vote on controversial legal amendments in the National Assembly this morning. The vote paves the way for the opposition CNRP’s seats to be redistributed. Heng Chivoan

Breaking: National Assembly passes election law amendments to allow CNRP seat distribution

Four amendments to election laws passed unopposed through the National Assembly today, paving the way for the CNRP’s seats throughout the country to be redistributed.

The drafts amend election laws pertaining to the National Assembly, Senate and commune and district councils.

Pen Panha, Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker and head of the Commission on Legislation and Justice, said the draft amendments to the Law on Elections of Members of the National Assembly (LEMNA) “comply with the current political context and developments in the Kingdom of Cambodia”.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether or not to dissolve the main opposition party, following a complaint from the Ministry of Interior.

The amendments allow the CNRP’s seats in parliament to be redistributed amongst minor parties, excluding the CPP – an example, the government says, of the continued existence of “multi-party democracy”.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Amendments to laws governing commune and district level positions, however, will allow the ruling party to occupy any vacant seats in which they received the next highest amount of votes, giving the ruling party virtually total control of local and grassroots politics.

In the Senate, meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior confirmed former Sam Rainsy Party senators – recently rebranded as the Candlelight Party – will not be removed from their posts because they are technically members of a party other than the CNRP, despite the SRP and Human Rights Party’s previous merger to become the main opposition party.

The articles were approved unanimously by 67 of the CPP’s attending lawmakers, with parliamentarian Hun Many absent because he is abroad. All of the opposition’s 55 lawmakers, more than half of whom have fled the country, boycotted the parliament session.

“The request to amend the four laws has no intention to destroy a person or political party,” said Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker.

Despite that, Yeap said the law was passed “especially for the treasonous acts of the president of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, who committed treason in a red-handed crime”, or in flagrante delicto. Sokha’s charges stem from comments made in a 2013 video in which he describes receiving guidance from the United States to develop a political platform. The government has justified his arrest and the flouting of his immunity with the fact that the video had remained online.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen signs into the National Assembly session this morning. Heng Chivoan

Yoeurng Sotheara, a legal analyst at election watchdog Comfrel, said the laws were “unconstitutional”.

“The constitution says the National Assembly should represent the people… It’s no longer representative if the seats of the opposition party which supporters voted for… are distributed to parties they don’t support,” he said.

The CNRP won just over 44 percent of the popular vote in the 2013 National Election. They will be replaced by five parties that won less than 7 percent, with the bulk of the seats going to Funcinpec, the same party that filed a complaint to the Ministry of Interior to dissolve the CNRP.

“The government doesn’t have the authority to redistribute the will of the people,” Sotheara added.

Ear Sophal, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said the passage of the amendments is an indicator that “democracy in Cambodia is officially dead”.

“The 2017 Commune Election was for naught,” the policy analyst wrote via email.

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