Legislation proposed yesterday by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party would vest authorities with broad powers to dissolve political parties that violate any law or threaten the “security of the state” or “national unity”, while also barring convicted criminals from leadership positions and outlawing money sourced from abroad.
Or, in the words of one CNRP lawmaker yesterday: “This law would abolish the CNRP.”
The measures, widely seen as aimed squarely at the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, were set out in a formal draft to amend the 1997 Law on Political Parties, debated by the National Assembly’s permanent committee.
The sweeping proposals, including the creation of five new articles and changes to 27 more, were called for by Prime Minister Hun Sen in recent speeches.
His threat to dissolve parties whose leaders are convicted of a crime prompted exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who faces several convictions, to resign as president and quit the CNRP on Saturday in a bid to “protect the party”.
But the draft, obtained yesterday, goes far beyond the premier’s previous remarks, and appears to leave the opposition vulnerable to action by the Interior Ministry and Supreme Court on several fronts.
For starters, under Article 6, which previously outlawed parties from creating “autonomous zones”, seizing power by force and organising an armed force, includes two new vague provisions that prohibit parties from “any conduct influencing the security of the state” or any “incitement leading to the disunity of the nation”.
Violation of this provision, new Article 44 states, would allow the Supreme Court – the body assigned to arbitrate the law – to cease a party’s activities for five years or dissolve it altogether.
Given the CNRP is often accused of incitement by the government, opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua yesterday called the draft “incredibly serious”.
“Who is going to define incitement and national security? These laws, these amendments, we’re really talking about abolishing the party,” said Sochua, who slammed the draft as “unconstitutional”. “How do we exercise our political rights in these circumstances?”
Sochua is among several members of the CNRP’s leadership still under a legal cloud over a 2014 anti-government rally that turned violent. Under the new law, the fate of any member of the leadership group – the director, deputy director, members of the directors committee, permanent committee, or any “equivalent body” is clearly spelled out.
Anyone in such a position convicted of a crime either felony or misdemeanour would have to be removed and replaced within 90 days, according to Article 18 of the draft.
Article 38, meanwhile, says that “any party who violates the constitution, the law on political parties or any other existing laws of the Kingdom of Cambodia” is subject to action by the Interior Ministry.
The ministry’s options include a formal letter setting a time frame for the party to “correct” the mistake, “measures to stop the illegal action”, an order to “temporarily stop the action of a political party for a period of time” or a complaint to the Supreme Court to dissolve the party.
Furthermore, if a party is dissolved, Article 45 allows the court to “ban the political activity of the leadership of that political party for five years”.
At a press conference yesterday following the committee’s almost two-hour debate between eight CPP and four opposition lawmakers, spokesmen for the parties discussed the law, which once passed, would require parties to file documents to comply within 90 days.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith asked for more time to discuss the draft, while saying the “restrictions” were unnecessary. His CPP counterpart Chheang Vun argued the changes strengthened the rule of law and would be equally applied to all parties.
“Our target is to support the rule of law, support the political regime, and support the monarchy,” Vun said.
Reached yesterday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan also evoked the threat of instability to justify another proposed change to the law, which it appears could target the CNRP’s finances, the bulk of which come from supporters abroad.
Currently, parties are banned from receiving political contributions from government and public institutions, NGOs and foreign firms, but under an expansion of Article 29, receiving donations in any form from “foreigners” or “organisations whose financial resources are from outside the country” is outlawed.
Though Sochua and CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said they believed their donors, as Cambodians living abroad, would not count, Eysan said the law would ban receiving money from anyone abroad, ostensibly to stop cash funding “terrorist” activities.
“[Money from abroad] can fund the heads of parties to engage in terrorism or create a colour revolution,” he said.
Violations of this provision, according to Article 40, warrant a $5,000 fine or, if the donations exceed that amount, a fine double what was received.
In cases of “repeat offences”, the first fine is doubled and the Interior Ministry can file a complaint to the Supreme Court to dissolve the party.
Reached yesterday, political observer Ou Virak said the CPP was creating a “tool to use when necessary”. However, he still doubted whether they would wield it.