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National Assembly seat reallocation floated on Fresh News

Lawmakers vote during a National Assembly session earlier this year. An opinion piece published by Fresh News suggests that the opposition party’s possible dissolution would lead to assembly seats being redistributed to smaller political parties.
Lawmakers vote during a National Assembly session earlier this year. An opinion piece published by Fresh News suggests that the opposition party’s possible dissolution would lead to assembly seats being redistributed to smaller political parties. Pha Lina

National Assembly seat reallocation floated on Fresh News

An opinion piece published by government mouthpiece Fresh News suggests, among other things, dissolving the Cambodia National Rescue Party and allocating its National Assembly seats to five minor parties, including Funcinpec, which plans to sue for the dissolution of CNRP.

The piece is the latest in a stream of often anonymous editorials and letters to the editor, which in the recent past have proven prescient during a crackdown on the opposition and media.

The article, under the name Baksey Chamkrong, begins by noting that the CNRP is guilty of “secret plans” of “colour revolution”.

The opposition party’s president, Kem Sokha, was arrested last month on charges of “treason”, and controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties could allow for the dissolution of the CNRP if he is convicted.

Over the weekend, Funcinpec announced its intention to file a lawsuit to the Supreme Court requesting the CNRP’s disbandment.

“If CNRP is dissolved, then all seats … are divided among parties in the parliament. But because there are only two parties in the parliament, the CPP will get all 123 seats,” wrote Chamkrong, whose pseudonym translates to “Bird Guarding the City”.

Sotheara Yoeurng, legal officer at election watchdog Comfrel, confirmed that under the current law the seats “would be 100 percent allocated to CPP”.“In a real sense of democracy, it would be death,” Yoeurng said.

Deputy CNRP President Mu Sochua said such an outcome would violate the constitution, which describes Cambodia as a “multi-party democracy”.

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson, meanwhile, said, “If the government really plans to dissolve the CNRP then it should just call off the 2018 election and proclaim PM Hun Sen dictator for life.”

Robertson called the article part of a “psychological operations campaign” against the opposition. “One by one, the CPP is whittling down the opposition through a mixture of threats and intimidation designed to stampede them out of the country,” he said via email.

Past Fresh News articles preceded the expulsion of the US-backed National Democratic Institute and the arrest of Sokha, with a parade of posts detailing the alleged involvements of both in anti-government conspiracies and colour revolutions.

In his opinion piece, Chamkrong recommends a compromise allocating seats to minor parties rather than for the CPP to take the entire assembly, following an amendment to the Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly.

The first option would distribute seats proportionally according to votes received, affording CPP 120 seats and Funcinpec three.

The third option would be to redistribute the CNRP seats by vote percentages among minor parties. The CPP would remain at 68 seats, Funcinpec would have 41, League for Democracy Party six, the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party five, Cambodian Nationality Party two and the Khmer Economic Development Party one.

Sochua, again, dismissed that idea.“It’s up to the over 3 million voters who voted for CNRP. How are they going to accept that?” she asked.

In either scenario, Funcinpec would stand to become the main opposition party. The party could not be reached yesterday, and refused to comment on their lawsuit against the CNRP on Sunday.

Sok Eysan, spokesman for the CPP, was open to the alternate scenarios.

“CPP doesn’t want any more [seats], 68 is enough to pass laws. We are not greedy to get 123,” Eysan said, favouring the third option.

When asked if the CPP would consider amending the law to allow that, Eysan said only that they will assess the situation.

Seng Sok Heng, president of the Cambodia Nationality Party, said his organisation would simply follow the law, but opposed Funcinpec’s motions against the CNRP. “The government, which is the executive body, should file the complaint,” he said.

Political analyst Meas Nee speculated yesterday that the government may be using Fresh News to prep the public for future action.

“They always get information quickly from the government. Sometimes they test the public,” Nee said.

Nee noted that, were the CNRP to be dissolved, the CPP may prefer to share power with minor parties in order to maintain a semblance of democracy.

“The CPP learned that it might not be legal … If the CPP got all of those seats, it would be a coup,” he said.

Nee also said that Funcinpec may have struck a deal with the government to sue for CNRP’s dissolution in exchange for National Assembly seats.

“In the past it was accused that some parties are under the influence of CPP … now it has become clear,” he said.

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