The beleaguered Cambodia National Rescue Party will boycott the upcoming National Assembly session, the party announced yesterday, while spokesman Son Chhay said he had received “assurances” from unidentified ambassadors that the government would not dissolve the party.
“We are terribly worried, but we do not worry about losing our position as lawmakers. Winning or losing is normal in a democratic country. We worry about losing the peoples’ voices,” Chhay told reporters after a party meeting yesterday, confirming that just 24 of CNRP’s 55 lawmakers remain in country.
The boycott is in response to a Ministry of Interior complaint filed to the Supreme Court on Friday, requesting the dissolution of the CNRP under new amendments to the Law on Political Parties.
Those changes to the law banned parties from affiliating with a convicted felon or conspiring with foreign powers. Party President Kem Sokha is currently in jail awaiting trial on widely criticised charges of “treason” for saying he received political advice from the US.
Chhay broke rank with some of his colleagues yesterday, saying the party was open to selecting a new leader if Sokha were found guilty. He also spoke out against potential economic sanctions in reaction to the political crackdown.
“Both the opposition and ruling parties need to be responsible . . . Frankly we do not want any economic pressure on Cambodia because our country needs development,” he said.
Deputy President Mu Sochua, who has previously said the party would not select a new leader even if faced with dissolution, could not be reached yesterday.
Chhay also maintained he had received word that the party will not be dissolved.
“There are some assurances from some embassies, which I will not name, that the CPP has promised not to dissolve the CNRP,” Chhay said.
The French and American embassies declined to comment, while European Union Ambassador George Edgar said he had never heard of the discussions. Meanwhile, the international community continued to urge the government to change course.
“Genuine competition is essential to democracy and to the legitimacy of Cambodia’s 2018 national elections. We urge the government to consider the serious implications of this action,” US Embassy Deputy Press Secretary David Josar said on Sunday.
“The enforced removal from the political scene of a party that won more than 40% of the popular vote . . . would be a serious blow to democracy,” the EU wrote in a statement. “We urge the Government of Cambodia to reconsider.”
James Ross, legal director at Human Rights Watch, called the move to dissolve the CNRP – currently the only legitimate competitor to the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party – a “naked grab for total power” in a statement yesterday. Ross also appealed to the international community to “act to reverse this development”.
As condemnation continued to pour in, the Supreme Court yesterday continued to move forward with the complaint.
The court yesterday issued an order to Sokha to gather and submit evidence in defence of the party within 20 days – an impossible task given that he is currently in prison. Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the party’s “acting director” may fulfil the requirement, though it is unclear who will do so.
Sokha’s arrest was almost universally condemned for, among other things, its apparent violation of his constitutionally mandated parliamentary immunity, which can only be breached in the event of an in flagrante delicto – or “red-handed” – crime.
In response to a request for an explanation as to how Sokha had been arrested in the act of committing a crime – considering that the comments in question were made in a 2013 speech – the Ministry of Justice explained that video’s presence online justified the charges.
The CPP has been criticised in the past for seemingly ignoring opposition parliamentarians’ immunity. Though it lacks the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly required under the constitution to approve the prosecution of a lawmaker, it has nonetheless done so on at least three occasions.