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NA ‘more dictatorial’: Comfrel chides legislature in report on Cambodia’s democracy

Comfrel head Koul Panha (centre) discusses the organisation's annual report on National Assembly affairs at a conference in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Comfrel head Koul Panha (centre) discusses the organisation's annual report on National Assembly affairs at a conference in Phnom Penh yesterday. Pha Lina

NA ‘more dictatorial’: Comfrel chides legislature in report on Cambodia’s democracy

Cambodian electoral watchdog Comfrel has released a damning new report on the state of democracy in the Kingdom, saying political dialogue has dwindled to detrimental levels and describing the National Assembly as “dysfunctional”.

Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said the report, which analysed political activity between November 2015 and October 2016, said the parliamentary body was “more dictatorial than the previous year”.

“The National Assembly is very much a majority rule, but they do not respect the rights of the minority to have a voice to be heard, to have access to information and their [parliamentary] protection,” he said, citing the arrest of opposition members despite their constitutionally mandated parliamentary immunity.

“This majority controls all, everything; there is no multi-party spirit.”

The timely report comes a day after the National Assembly swiftly passed widely criticised amendments to the Law on Political Parties – ones that could theoretically empower the ruling party to dissolve the opposition – in a session boycotted by the Cambodia National Rescue Party on Monday.

He added that the slew of legislation passed without debate was also cause for concern – of 32 agenda items, 11 were passed without discussion and 21 were passed unilaterally by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said he was not interested in Comfrel’s findings.

“The CPP has never considered that Comfrel is the boss who needs to be reported to,” he said. “They are not independent, and they take the opposition’s side completely . . . They want to raise up the opposition party and discredit the ruling party.”

Eysan further defended the legal measures taken against opposition lawmakers Um Sam An and Hong Sok Hour – both of whom were jailed, despite their parliamentary immunity, for remarks made on social media – saying their arrests were “not a violation of the national constitution, but [because] the individual violated the law”.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, however, agreed parliamentary debate had been stifled.

“Before, we were allowed to speak when we submitted names to the National Assembly, but . . . since the beginning of 2016, most of us submitted to the National Assembly, but we were not allowed to speak. This is the reality.”

Sovann acknowledged that his party had been a no-show for votes on contentious laws, but maintained it was because they were not permitted to debate potential changes.

“Sometimes we did not attend the National Assembly when the law is against the democratic principle,” he said.

Comfrel’s report also found a spike in the number of visits to local communes made by parliamentarians – CPP lawmakers made 617 field trips, compared with 1,184 by 45 CNRP lawmakers.

Panha said the “remarkably high” number of visits was no doubt to galvanise support heading into commune elections in June.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, a former adviser to opposition leader Kem Sokha, said the current situation boiled down to the will and word of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Referring to several recent speeches in which the premier’s seemingly off-hand remarks were quickly acted upon by others in the party – including his suggestion to amend the Political Party Law and his calls for the arrest of analyst Kim Sok – Mong Hay said “Hun Sen’s mouth is the magic mouth”.

“Recently when he screamed out, [authorities] carried out the task and managed to arrest the person,” he said

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