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Party Law draws EU eyes

EU Ambassador George Edgar speaks during a press conference last year in Phnom Penh.
EU Ambassador George Edgar speaks during a press conference last year in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Party Law draws EU eyes

A European parliamentarian has submitted a “priority question” to Europe’s high representative for foreign affairs, Frederica Mogherini, urging strong action against Cambodia in response to recent threats by Prime Minister Hun Sen to dissolve opposition parties.

Legislation proposed on Monday by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party would give authorities the power to dissolve political parties that violate a law or threaten the “security of the state” or “national unity”, and would bar convicted criminals from holding leadership positions.

Longtime opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has been convicted in a raft of criminal defamation suits filed by ruling party figures, resigned on Saturday to prevent the Cambodia National Rescue Party from being dissolved.

But Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, an MEP with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), argues that criminalising political parties will derail Cambodia’s fragile democracy, and that the EU should take a bigger role to prevent this.

“We have been trying to deal with this through political dialogue, but we think it’s not enough anymore. Mogherini has to raise the bar to change this,” Tremosa said yesterday.

“The threat to dissolve the CNRP is politically motivated. We don’t understand how they can threaten to dissolve a party that is so popular, that got so many votes in 2013 despite the breaches and irregularities. The EU needs to act if it wants to remain credible.”

Every European parliamentarian can raise one urgent issue a month, and the high commissioner is obliged to respond to the questions within four to six weeks.

In a document obtained by The Post, Tremosa asks what the European Commission will do to ensure the upcoming elections in Cambodia are credible, and how political dialogue will prevent a one-party system from being established in the Kingdom.

According to Tremosa, the EU should use its economic clout to ensure political plurality and human rights are respected. The European Union is the largest market for Cambodia’s biggest export sector, the garment industry.

EU Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar yesterday agreed it’s in the country’s long-term interest to ensure elections offer Cambodians a choice, but stressed that Tremosa’s questions would be answered by the high commissioner “in due course”.

“We look to the authorities to ensure a political and legislative environment in which opposition parties and civil society can function freely,” Edgar said.

Opposition MP Mu Sochua met with Edgar on Monday to discuss the current political situation, and to pressure for further EU assistance with local elections in June.

“All existing barriers to a fair and equitable participation of all political parties should be eliminated for an environment conducive to free and fair elections,” Sochua said. “The CNRP appeals to the EU to provide full funding as well as technical support to the [National Election Committee] to protect the security of the voter list.”

A nationwide voter education campaign should be launched by the NEC and relevant NGOs, and election observers should be trained by mid-March, Sochua added, stressing that the new voter and campaign regulations will be “complicated.”

Sam Kuntheamy, director of election watchdog NICFEC, agreed the NEC should focus on voter education, but said he’s “not very concerned” about the accuracy of the voter list.

Still, international entities like the EU could wield important influence in the way the elections are carried out, Kuntheamy said.

“They could pressure the NEC because they are a big donor,” he said. “The NEC is going to listen to the EU.”

But Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday denied such pressure was necessary, saying instead that the EU should be aiding Cambodia in dealing with criminals like Rainsy. “Cambodia has the right to take care of itself,” he said.

“We don’t want a criminal person to be a political leader. We are strengthening the rule of law, and I hope the European Union will help Cambodia. We should be together to fight impunity.”

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