Cambodia's Hun Sen Pushes For Tighter Restrictions on Political Opposition

khmer-cppanniv-062817.jpg Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen addresses CPP members at a rally in Phnom Penh, June 28, 2017.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out again on Wednesday at critics of his 32-year rule, urging ruling-party lawmakers to enact legislation banning opposition figure Sam Rainsy from future political activity and asking his Interior Ministry to investigate the “status” of a now-dissolved election monitoring group.

Speaking in Phnom Penh to an audience of Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) members at a celebration of the ruling party’s 66th anniversary, Hun Sen asked that Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties be amended to bar anyone convicted of a crime from involvement in politics.

“May I ask the CPP’s lawmakers to consider another amendment [to the law] that would ban any convict from engaging in such activities?” Hun Sen asked in a clear reference to former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy, who now lives in exile in Paris.

“We are not afraid of you. However, we also don’t want you to mess up the country’s achievements,” Hun Sen said.

Sam Rainsy, who left Cambodia in late 2015 to avoid arrest in a defamation case brought by a former CPP foreign minister, resigned as CNRP chief after a law was introduced that bars convicted criminals from holding the top office in a political party.

The CNRP is now led by former deputy party leader Kem Sokha, who has faced legal problems of his own at the hands of Cambodian courts widely viewed as controlled by the country’s ruling party.

Speaking earlier in June during a call-in show with RFA’s Khmer Service, Sam Rainsy—who has continued to criticize the CPP from exile on his Facebook page—vowed to return to Cambodia to face off against Hun Sen in general elections next year.

“In 2018, our compatriots will go to vote for change at the national level through electing new lawmakers. Then we will have a new government and a new prime minister to lead a new politics in order to serve the genuine interests of the nation and the people,” he said.

No effect seen

Further restrictions added to Cambodian law will likely have no effect at all on the opposition leader’s political activities, CNRP deputy president Eng Chhai Eang told RFA.

“Sam Rainsy’s political career cannot be blocked by any law that Hun Sen wishes to propose,” Eng Chhai Eang said. “Sam Rainsy has won his popularity with the [Cambodian] people, and even if such a law is eventually adopted, it will not be able to stop him from engaging in politics.”

Such a law would also violate rights guaranteed by the country’s constitution, Cambodian attorney Hong Kim Suon said.

“It is improper even to propose such a law, as it would violate the right to freedom of expression,” Hong Kim Suon said.

“A convict’s freedom of movement may be restricted, but never his freedom of expression,” he said.

Addressing supporters in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen meanwhile called on Cambodia’s Minister of Interior to look into the legal status of election-monitoring group The Situation Room, an already disbanded grouping of Cambodian NGOs that had questioned the fairness of commune council polls held on June 4.

“They keep challenging election outcomes time and time again,” Hun Sen said. “We won’t tolerate them anymore.”

“What is the purpose of this ‘Room,’ which challenges the National Election Commission’s results?  Is the Situation Room used as a command center for a ‘color revolution’ under the pretext of monitoring the elections?” he asked.

“The Ministry of Interior must take immediate action against this group,” Hun Sen said.

Reached for comment, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said only that a ‘group of experts’ will look into the matter, adding, “Wait until a study has been carried out.”

A narrow road

Speaking to CNRP supporters in Kampong Chhnang province on Wednesday, party president Kem Sokha said that in spite of recent electoral gains, Cambodia’s political opposition now faces a “narrow road” leading to next year’s national polls.

“The road is narrow because the ruling party is reluctant to accept their losses, so we are going to face many more obstacles,” he said. “We have been persecuted in many ways, and they are not going to stop.”

“But thanks to the clarity of our principles and strategies, the CNRP will overcome these ordeals.”

Cheam Sarun, newly elected CNRP commune chief for the province’s Baribo District, added that his party’s members are aware of the obstacles they will now face.

“However, we are determined to move forward, addressing each challenge as it comes,” he said.

Reported by Zakariya Tin, Vuthy Tha, and Sopheak Chin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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