UPDATED at 11:17 A.M. EST on 2017-03-13
Cambodia’s acting head of state has signed into law a controversial bill that gives the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen vast new powers over political parties as the nation heads into local and national elections in June and in 2018.
Say Chhum, president of the Senate from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CCP), signed the bill into law on Wednesday as acting head of Cambodia in the absence of King Norodom Sihamoni who is in China on a medical trip.
The government issued information about its promulgation to the media on Thursday.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) objects to the law because it believes the measure is another effort by Hun Sen and the CCP, which routinely file lawsuits against the party and its leaders, to cripple it in the run-up to the elections.
The new law bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding a top office in a political party.
The CNRP’s former leader Sam Rainsy has been in exile since late 2015 after his conviction on charges of defamation that supporters say were questionable rulings by a court system beholden to Hun Sen.
He resigned from the party on Feb. 11, telling the media that he had stepped down to save the CNRP from being dissolved.
The CNRP also objects to Article 18 of the Law on Political Parties.
The article states that “the president and vice president of a political party and components of its steering committee or permanent committee, or an equivalent body to the steering committee or the permanent committee of a political party, shall not be convicted of a crime or misdemeanor which carries an unsuspended jail term.”
The National Assembly approved the bill with little debate on Feb. 20 with 66 votes by the CPP, amid a boycott of parliament by CNRP deputies.
Eight days later, the Senate approved an amended version of the bill with an article allowing the state to dismantle any political parties deemed as secessionist or subversive.
The provision was ordered by Hun Sen, who has used recent public speeches to rail against alleged "color revolutions" aimed at overthrowing his 31-year rule.
The Constitutional Council, comprised of CPP loyalists, ruled on March 3 that changes to the Law on Political Parties were constitutional.
Reported by Sereyvuth Oung for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that the National Assembly approved the bill on Feb. 20 with 44 votes by the CPP.