King Norodom Sihamoni signed off on four sets of controversial amendments to Cambodia’s electoral laws yesterday, officially approving provisions that will allow the opposition CNRP’s seats to be redistributed in the event of its dissolution.
Leng Peng Long, a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the National Assembly’s spokesman, said the amendments are now enshrined in law and apply “immediately”.
“The party has not yet been dissolved because the case has not yet gone to trial,” Peng Long said, explaining that if the country’s main opposition party is dissolved, its seats will be automatically redistributed.
The CNRP is facing dissolution under similarly controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties, which give the Supreme Court broad authority to terminate a party found to be guilty of “affecting the security of the state” and other vaguely defined prohibitions.
Party President Kem Sokha is currently behind bars on charges of “treason”.
The amendments allow for the redistribution of the CNRP’s 55 National Assembly seats among minor parties, with 44 of the seats going to royalist party Funcinpec. In the 2013 election, it failed to win a single seat.
Funcinpec first filed a complaint to dissolve the CNRP to the Ministry of Interior, raising suggestions from some observers that the party may have struck a deal with the CPP, which holds the remaining 68 seats.
The other amendments will permit the CPP to occupy all of the opposition’s local-level positions, giving the ruling party virtually complete control of grassroots politics.
Yoeurng Sotheara, legal adviser at election monitor Comfrel, has maintained that the amendments violate the Constitution and are antithetical to democracy.
However, he said the King has an obligation to sign any law that passes the appropriate legal channels. The amendments have already cleared the CPP-dominated National Assembly, the Senate and the Constitutional Council.
“The King . . . doesn’t have the authority to deny,” he said yesterday.
Son Chhay, the CNRP’s chief whip and acting spokesman, admitted he was disappointed that the King had signed the legislation.“We all wish that the King would not do so,” he said via telephone yesterday, adding the amendments are “not appropriate”.
Chhay lamented the fact that the King has not met with the beleaguered CNRP, more than half of whose lawmakers are abroad, with some leaving the country after Sokha’s arrest in early September.
“We hope to meet with him . . . sometime soon,” he said.While the King may not have the power to reject a law, he has on occasion left the country shortly before being called upon to sign laws.
Rather than signing the amendments to the political parties law in July, for example, the King travelled to China, seemingly for a routine medical checkup. The task then fell to the acting head of state, Senate President and CPP official Say Chhum.
For Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, it was not surprising that the King had signed the amendments.
“King Sihamoni has never shown much appetite for politics,’’ he said. “[He] has been content to play the purely ceremonial role laid out for him in the Constitution.’’