Lawmakers from Cambodia’s main opposition party said on Thursday that a move by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to rescind the diplomatic passports of 56 party officials and parliamentarians was another attempt to harass them following their party’s dissolution.
Senator Sor Chandeth, who is among the 56 lawmakers and senators whose diplomatic passports were revoked and declared null and void by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told RFA’s Khmer Service that he is not surprised by the move.
Anything can happen in a country where political stability is at stake and where “everything is arbitrarily decided by on one man,” he said, referring to Hun Sen who has been in power for nearly 33 years.
“They cannot do that to us,” he said. “It is completely illegal to revoke our passports. It is illegal in the first place to ban us from politics.”
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court formally dissolved the CNRP, and since then has threatened members to change their party affiliation to that of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in order to keep the jobs for which they had campaigned in local elections in June.
He also has warned opposition party members fleeing the country that they will soon be “sent back” from neighboring Thailand, where many have gone into hiding to escape persecution.
Sor Chandeth said it would be useless to try to file a complaint about Hun Sen’s latest move to suppress the opposition in the run-up to national elections in seven months, because his party controls the courts.
“They are the courts,” he said. “Whatever decision they make is the law. It is utterly unjust.”
Fifty-four of 56 of the diplomatic passports rescinded were issued to CNRP lawmakers, and the other two were issued to two senators, including Sor Chandeth.
The letters dated Nov. 24 that they received from the ministry: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation presents its compliments to all diplomatic and consular missions accredited to Cambodia and has the honor to inform the latter that the following Cambodian diplomatic passports are declared null and void.”
Sorn Chey, executive director of the Cambodia-based Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, said the move is a routine administrative matter because the CNRP officials were expelled from their offices after their party was dissolved.
“Though their diplomatic passports have been revoked, they still can use their regular Cambodian passports,” he said.
He said that all other official documents related to their positions will become null and void as well.
But Sorn Chey also said the government’s efforts to eliminate the opposition party, a free press, and independent civil society organizations, will have a long-term negative impact on Cambodia’s international relations.
Hun Sen’s government has faced widespread condemnation by rights groups and the international community in recent months over its actions targeting the CNRP, as well as its orchestration of the closure of independent media outlets and its crackdown on NGOs.
Three new NEC members
In a related development, three CNRP officials who resigned from Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) after their party was dissolved are being replaced by CPP loyalists or affiliates.
One new member from the CPP has been proposed along with two members from two minor parties for seats on the NEC, the agency that supervises Cambodia’s national elections.
Kuoy Bunroeun, Te Manyrong, and Rong Chhun — all CNRP nominees — resigned from their posts on Nov. 20 to protest the court ruling dissolving the CNRP and new laws reassiging members' parliamentary seats and commune councilor positions to government-aligned parties.
The NEC’s six remaining members include four CPP nominees, designated “neutral member” Hang Puthea, and former Supreme Court prosecutor Hing Thirith, the only remaining CNRP pick.
The National Assembly is scheduled to vote to elect the three new members on Dec. 7.
Dim Sovannarom, vice chairman of the Cambodian government's controversial Human Rights Committee and head of the Public Affairs Section of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, is one of the proposed candidates for an NEC seat. He is seen as leaning toward the CPP.
The other two candidates — Nuth Sokhom from Funcinpec and Hel Sarath from the Cambodian Nationality Party — are from minor political parties that have been distributed some seats taken from the dissolved CNRP.
Cambodian political analyst Meas Ny told RFA that the appointment of new members call the NEC's independence into question because they will only serve as a rubber stamp for the body.
“An independent NEC is vital to rebuild trust and Cambodia’s image in the eyes of Cambodians and the international community,” he said. “However, a free and fair election does not start only on election day. The whole process, including the pre-election period, the election itself, and the post-election period, will all be taken into account.”
Kan Savang, coordinator of election observers for the Committee on Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), also questioned the legitimacy of the proposed new NEC members.
“As we can see, at least two proposed members are from the two political parties that didn’t win a single seat in the 2013 national election,” he said. “On top of that, the event leading up this moment has been tainted with political repression, which has led to the dissolution of the opposition party.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.