Lawmakers from the Cambodia National Rescue Party have left the country for a meeting with former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a party official said yesterday, anticipating the passage of legal amendments that will ban them from “conspiring with a convicted criminal”.
The controversial amendments to the Law on Political Parties were ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month to further sideline the self-exiled Rainsy, who faces multiple politically-tinged convictions, and were on Monday passed by the National Assembly. A Senate vote is due early next week.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, a member of the CNRP’s standing committee, said that current party President Kem Sokha and a number of other lawmakers would be meeting with Rainsy this week, but said he did not know where.
“They left Cambodia today, but they intend to meet in the coming days,” Thomico said, adding Sokha would be joined by a group of about 30 other people composed of “mainly the members of parliament”.
“It will be an assessment of the new changes to the Law on Political Parties … and the future of CNRP,” Thomico said. “According to the changes to the law, this will be the last time they can meet with Sam Rainsy, otherwise the CNRP will be disbanded.”
In addition to banning “conspiring” with criminals, the new amendments will also ban “using the voice, image, written documents or activities of a convicted criminal . . . for the interests of the party”. Rainsy’s face currently appears on thousands of billboards across the country, and he has been known to address CNRP rallies via Skype during his self-exile.
An article from pro-government news site Fresh News said Sokha would be joined in Hong Kong by senior lawmaker Son Chhay and deputy CNRP leader Mu Sochua, who was elevated to the position after a previous round of changes to the law in February forced Rainsy to step down as leader to avoid his party’s dissolution.
Neither Sochua nor Chhay could be reached for comment, and CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he was “not aware” of the meeting.
Thomico said he had received “contradictory information” about the location of the meeting, with some claiming it would be in France and others saying it would take place in the Asia-Pacific region.
The new amendments pose a challenge to the party, which has long relied on Rainsy and his legacy to whip up its base, and political commentator Meas Ny said the new law will be purposefully ambiguous.
“It leaves a lot of gaps for the ruling party to play around in,” Ny said, pointing out that any communication with members of the CNRP could qualify as “conspiring”.
Ny noted that there is an added concern because Rainsy is married to Tioulong Saumura, who is herself a CNRP lawmaker. “The government will try to follow phone communication . . . to ensure complete disconnect between Rainsy and the CNRP,” Ny said.
Saumura declined to comment yesterday and Rainsy did not respond to requests for comment.