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Second change to Party Law this year takes aim at Rainsy

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan speaks to the press outside the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan speaks to the press outside the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Second change to Party Law this year takes aim at Rainsy

Thirty lawmakers have agreed to once again alter Cambodia’s controversial Law on Political Parties – the second change so far this year – with ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan leaving little doubt that the new law would target one person: Sam Rainsy.

The former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party was already a victim of the first round of changes to the law earlier this year, which led him to resign from the opposition party fearing that it would face dissolution under the revised statute if he stayed at the helm.

Those amendments, passed in February and signed into law in March, allow for the dismantling of a political party if its leadership hold criminal convictions. Rainsy – along with several other CNRP members who also ultimately resigned – has accumulated a litany of defamation and other convictions, most of which are widely believed to be politically motivated.

CPP spokesman Eysan yesterday said 30 lawmakers had signed a proposal to make further changes to the law, though he would not elaborate on the specifics. Asked if the amendments would target Rainsy specifically, Eysan responded “surely”, explaining that Rainsy had been sparking political troubles for 20 years.

“Why eliminate him? He wants to eliminate [us]. He has provoked chaos and unrest in the nation’s society,” Eysan said. “He is not a member of any party now. Why does he still interfere? This [is because] he wants to stir the situation of our country.”

“His political life [and] his social life is gone,” he said.

Rainsy – whose regular posts to Facebook from self-exile in France have drawn the ruling party’s ire, and have been at the centre of a number of his defamation cases – appeared unfazed by the proposed changes, which were called for by Prime Minister Hun Sen during the celebrations for the anniversary of the CPP’s founding last week.

“How can they silence me?” Rainsy said in an email.

“With modern and borderless technologies nobody can prevent anybody from sharing information and ideas with possibly devastating impact on any dictatorship, especially in a small and internationally dependent country such as Cambodia.

“How can they prevent the air from circulating and the wind of freedom – that is blowing all over the world – from reaching Cambodia?”

Rainsy said it was “not only wrong but silly or, at best, childish”, for the CPP to alter the law each time they spotted a Facebook post they didn’t like, and that the pending changes were “very much” influenced by the coming national elections next year. “It’s a sign of weakness and despair,” he said.

National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said the amendments were due to be discussed in an open session later this week, unless there were last-minute changes.

CPP lawmaker and assembly spokesman Chheang Vun declined to comment, saying the proposal was being studied by the party’s legal experts.

Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, said the political law was supposed to be a foundation of democracy, not the expression of any one party’s whims. What’s more, he added, it would be logistically difficult to legally target one opponent.

“If you have a law that will only be for a few individuals, it’s basically undercutting the authority of the government to enforce its own law,” he said. “If [Rainsy] turns around and supports the CPP, are they going to dissolve the CPP?”

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the ruling party’s frankness also opened up a lot of questions.

“At long last, all the false pretense from the CPP falls away, revealing what we said all along – that the revised political parties law is simply a crude instrument for PM Hun Sen and the government to bash the opposition into submission,” Robertson said in an email.

“What’s worrying is what does this mean? Are the gloves off, is the government ready to walk away from any meaningful respect for democratic rights in the run up to the 2018 national election?”

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