Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday embraced a proposal to redistribute the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s National Assembly seats “when” – not if – the party is dissolved, while praising the solution as a boon for democracy.
“They talk about the multi-party problem, but I want to confirm that when the one party is dissolved, there will be five parties that will replace it. That means that it will go from two parties to six parties in the National Assembly,” Hun Sen said in a speech to 20,000 migrant workers in Phnom Penh, adding the dissolution would happen “soon”.
His comments were in reference to legal amendments proposed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to redistribute CNRP seats to five minor parties. The idea for the redistribution, which gives parties with very marginal popular support assembly seats, was first floated by government-aligned media source Fresh News. It would require an amendment to the Law on Elections of Members of the National Assembly during the next session of parliament, which will be boycotted by the CNRP.
“Currently, there are dozens of political parties in Cambodia, and it is a heaven for political parties and NGOs,” Hun Sen said.
But despite the sometimes crowded ballots, the only two parties that have shown an ability to mobilise large numbers of voters are the CPP and CNRP, which took 48 percent and 44 percent of the popular vote, respectively, in the 2013 national election. The next runner-up, the royalist Funcinpec party, captured just 3.66 percent of the vote, failing to win a single seat after a decades long slide into irrelevance.
Nonetheless, under the proposed redistribution, it would take 41 of the CNRP’s 55 seats in parliament – nearly 45 percent of the body’s 123 votes.
In spite of Hun Sen’s lavish praise of the Kingdom’s political system, observers yesterday were much less optimistic.
“Cambodia may have many NGOs on paper but there is virtually no space left for independent human rights NGOs to operate on a day-to-day basis without being threatened or/and surveilled,” said Naly Pilorge, of rights NGO Licadho.
In his speech, given on Veng Sreng Boulevard, the premier also suggested the CNRP’s dissolution would be karmic justice for what he claimed was its role in that street’s fatal protests in 2013. The wage demonstrations, which were not officially linked to the CNRP and ultimately turned violent, were put down when security forces fired into the crowd, killing at least five.
Hun Sen, however, claimed the government had found the “mastermind of the colour revolution”. “The gods have eyes,” he added.
Though the protests coincided with ongoing nonviolent opposition demonstrations, the CNRP has long denied provoking the confrontation.
Now the opposition finds itself with more than half of its lawmakers abroad, its president in prison and its demise seemingly imminent. Nonetheless, CNRP lawyers Sam Sokong and Peng Heng said the party has not requested their help to fight a formal complaint from the Ministry of Interior requesting the party’s dissolution, currently in the Supreme Court’s hands.
“They haven’t given us any power of attorney,” Heng said.
CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann said the reason for the CNRP’s silence was simple.
“The party does not need to prepare a lawyer ... It is impossible to stop even if we prepared 1,000 lawyers. What documents are we going to show, since we have never done anything? We just debated in a democratic manner, that is all,” he said.
Two previous rounds of alterations to the nation’s political laws – rammed through by the ruling party this year – forbade parties from associating with convicted criminals or colluding with foreign powers. CNRP President Kem Sokha is currently facing widely decried charges of “treason” after saying he received US advice on political strategy.
“When [the ruling party] want to do something, they will do it,” Monyvann said. “In the [party] standing committee meeting, we have already discussed this case and we do not care about it.”
Lee Morgenbesser, a Griffith University researcher who specialises in authoritarian regimes, said the question of how the CNRP can avoid dissolution is “moot at this point”.
“Given the move today to redistribute the CNRP’s assembly seats, it is pretty clear that the CPP government is not backing down,” Morgenbesser said via email yesterday, referring to the leaked draft outlining the redistribution plans. “Any action that relies on existing state institutions as a basis for survival is pointless.”