Southeast Asian lawmakers warned on Friday against Cambodian government plans to redistribute parliamentary seats belonging to the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, calling the threatened move an attack on multiparty democracy in the politically troubled country.
In an Oct. 13 statement, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) noted with alarm a proposal made on Thursday by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to allot the CNRP’s seats in parliament to smaller government-aligned political parties in the event the opposition party is dissolved.
“These new amendments are a brazen attempt to legitimize a wholly undemocratic move: giving positions at all levels of government to parties who, instead of earning the vote of the people, sold their loyalties to the CPP,” APHR chairperson and Malaysian parliamentarian Charles Santiago said.
“The ruling party wants to be able to argue that Cambodia remains a multiparty democracy, but no one should be fooled,” Santiago said.
The arrest in early September of CNRP leader Kem Sokha on treason charges had already revealed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s intentions to eliminate the most effective political opposition to his continued rule, Santiago said.
Now, the amendments proposed on Thursday represent “yet another slap in the face to the 44 percent of Cambodians who voted for the CNRP in 2013 and deserve to be represented by those they elected,” he said.
Cambodian government lawyers last week submitted a petition to the country’s Supreme Court, asking that it formally dissolve the CNRP.
The five lawyers representing the ruling CPP said the petition was based on complaints filed recently by the leaders of two smaller rival parties, Pich Sros of the Cambodian Youth Party and Prince Norodom Ranariddh of Funcinpec.
The request followed other recent government moves to destroy Cambodia’s most effective political opposition to Hun Sen’s 32-year rule. The CNRP’s performance in local elections in June was seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s general election.
Living in fear
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, a resident in the capital Phnom Penh voiced concern this week over the threatened dissolution of the CNRP and redistribution of its legislative seats.
“I voted for the CNRP. I didn’t vote for other parties like Funcinpec or the party belonging to Pich Sros,” the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Seats in the National Assembly are seats won by popular vote. They are not like seats in karaoke parlors that can be used by anyone.”
“As a supporter of the CNRP, I am now living in fear as I can’t openly discuss anything related to politics,” a resident of Cambodia’s Kratie province said, also speaking to RFA.
“No one dares to say anything! If the CNRP is dissolved, our Cambodia will be in trouble,” he said.
“Our country is marching toward authoritarianism,” a Buddhist monk in Battambang province added. “If the CNRP is dissolved, it will be hard to find another opposition group to replace it.”
A sovereign state
In a text message sent to reporters on Friday, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan meanwhile rejected international criticism of his party’s recent moves against the opposition.
“Cambodia is a sovereign state that enjoys full rights in managing her own affairs,” Sok Eysan wrote.
“Any demands for the release of the opposition leader and the withdrawal of complaints to dissolve the opposition party are nothing short of an attempt to nurture a culture of impunity in lieu of the rule of law,” he wrote.
“I would ask foreign governments and international organizations to respect Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty and refrain from interfering in her internal affairs,” he wrote.
If the CNRP is dissolved and its seats given away, “the result will be one-party rule in Cambodia,” the APHR said in its Oct. 13 statement, however.
“Anyone who thinks genuine, participatory, and inclusive elections are still possible in 2018 under these circumstances is gravely mistaken.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo and Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.