Opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said yesterday that Cambodia National Rescue Party banners featuring self-exiled former party President Sam Rainsy will be taken down nationwide after a National Assembly vote on Monday that is expected to ban the use of his image in party materials.
However, he added, the banners will be put back up “when we win the election”.
The National Assembly’s permanent committee yesterday decided to call a plenary session of parliament on Monday to vote on changes to the Law on Political Parties that would ban the CNRP from “conspiring” with Rainsy or using his face, voice or writing.
The changes ban any party from “using the voice, image, written documents or activities” of a convicted criminal, or from “conspiring” with one, and allows the courts to dissolve any party that breaks the law or ban them from political activities and elections.
Chhay Eang, a long-time confidante of Rainsy, said after the meeting that the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers would boycott Monday’s vote, effectively allowing the CPP’s 68 lawmakers to pass the changes, which were ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week. “With this law their aim is to zoom out to make the road that we can walk on become small. However, everything the CNRP does is towards its goal: change through elections,” Chhay Eang said after the permanent committee meeting, adding the CNRP was unfazed.
“If they don’t let us use the name of Sam Rainsy, we’ll change it out. We don’t worry. We work toward our goal,” he said. “When we win the election, we will have enough votes to cancel it.”
Chheang Vun, spokesman for the CPP’s lawmakers, said the new amendments to the law were necessary after a previous set of changes in February – which forced Rainsy to step down as CNRP leader or risk his party’s dissolution – failed to stop him from campaigning via social media from abroad.
“We put pressure to not let any convicts be involved with any party, and it’s very important. In our world, the superpower countries always want small countries to be their satellite,” Vun said, in apparent reference to the US.
“Those staying outside think that someday he can return [if a] superpower country helps him to come, [but] when the superpower country helps him to come it could affect Cambodian national society, making a split in our nation and society.”
“We are doing this to defend the citizens,” he added.
Yet Rainsy – who again fled a politically tinged criminal conviction in November 2015 after having returned in 2013 from self-exile to lead the CNRP to huge gains at the disputed national election that year – questioned the true motivations of the law changes.
“It’s really silly on the part of prime minister Hun Sen to order his yes-men at the rubber-stamp National Assembly to produce a ‘law’ that just targets one single person,” Rainsy said in an email. He added that he would be careful not to provide the CPP pretext to dissolve the party he helped create, but would not end his criticisms of the government.
“It’s now clear for the public that Hun Sen is afraid of me – his best enemy – to the extent that only my name or my photo or my voice or my shadow or any representation of me causes him insomnia,” he said.