Two of Cambodia’s minor parties yesterday railed against the adoption of amendments to the Law on Political Parties, saying their rapid push through parliament waylaid important legislation and served only the political interests of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Sourn Serey Ratha, president of the Khmer Power Party, and Sam Sundoeun, Grassroots Democracy Party deputy president, told a forum at the Royal University of Phnom Penh the legal changes would “break the nation” and would be bad for the economy – echoing a recent Moody’s assessment.
The amendments prohibit parties from using the voice, written materials or image of any convicted criminal – an explicit attempt to erase former opposition leader Sam Rainsy from Cambodia’s political arena ahead of national elections next year.
KPP’s Serey Ratha, who was accused of terrorism and sentenced in absentia for incitement, plotting and obstructing elections but received a surprise pardon at the behest of the premier, said the new amendments were not in the public interest.
“[These] amendments just follow what the prime minister wants . . . [The government] does not think of agricultural products of farmers who have no market,” he said, adding the government had no need to put in extra restraints on Rainsy.
GDP’s Sundoeun said amending the law would not improve Cambodia’s economy.
“We have some regret for the amendment of this law because we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “When we make a law to prohibit political rights, what’s the benefit? It breaks the nation.”
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Chhim Phalvorun, along with Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap, defended the amendments, which passed the Senate on Tuesday, as a way to keep parties “clean”.
“A convict does not have the rights equal to a citizen. If any party is under the influence of a convict, it means that the party does activity outside of the law,” Phalvorun said.
Santepheap said it was not unusual to change the same law within six months and that it was “necessary” to ensure that parties “have integrity”.
Panel organiser Sok Touch, vice president of Royal Academy of Cambodia, pointed out Rainsy still wielded significant influence.
“If politicians use the law, that mean politicians are mature, but if politicians use force, it is dangerous,” he said.
Also yesterday, a group of 19 civil society organisations expressed “deep concerns” about the amendments in a legal analysis, saying the changes were “unacceptably vague” and put “unjustifiable restrictions on freedoms”.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party did not attend the debate, with deputy leader Mu Sochua saying her party could “not run after each event”.
“A convict still has the right to speak, to enjoy some fundamental rights. The real question: Why are we charged, convicted, imprisoned in the first place?” she said in an email.
“Political targets are stripped of their fundamental rights [and] freedoms but [there is] one thing these ‘politically-painted criminals’ will never lose: their inner force and their moral authority.”
Additional reporting by Erin Handley