The Cambodian Senate is reviewing a controversial series of legal changes that could give Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government vast new powers over political parties.
The changes were approved by the National Assembly on Monday with only the votes of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) boycotted the parliament in protest.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has been pushing the changes as a way to keep “culprits” who have been convicted of crimes from leading a political party.
While Hun Sen painted the changes as necessary to protect Cambodian democracy, in effect, they give the government the legal power to eliminate any opposition.
“We have already sent the draft to the legal commission so they can begin examining this amendment,” Senate spokesman Mam Bun Neang told RFA’s Khmer Service. “They will then ask permission from the permanent committee to put it before the full senate.”
The senate is expected to rubber stamp the legislation, and King Norodom Sihamoni is also expected to sign it into law.
Just the threat of the changes has already cost the CNRP its long-term president, as Sam Rainsy resigned earlier this month in an effort to preserve the party.
One of the changes sought by Hun Sen would bar anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party.
Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence as opposition politicians often find themselves sentenced by pliant jurists on various charges.
Sam Rainsy is no exception, having been found guilty in several questionable cases.
Hun Sen has said that the law needs to be changed to rid Cambodian politics of “any individual with culprit status.”
“We shall ban not just a few people, but we shall get rid of the whole slate so that they are deterred,” he said earlier in February.
Cambodia’s local elections are set for June 2017 and national elections are scheduled for 2018. In the disputed 2013 elections, the CPP lost 22 seats in its worst showing since 1998.
“Once it comes into effect, the Interior Ministry will have full ability to implement it and sweep out any political parties that do not fulfill their functions and duties as political parties,” CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun told The Cambodia Daily after the National Assembly vote on Monday.
While Cambodia’s national legislature was reviewing the new law, election observer the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) released a report that found a decrease in the National Assembly’s independence and productivity in 2016.
“The parliament’s drop in effectiveness results from violation of the parliamentarians’ legislative immunity,” COMFREL Executive Director Koul Panha told RFA.
COMFREL’s report on the National Assembly for 2016 found that the ruling party seriously violated the opposition party parliamentarians’ immunity and reduced the role of the opposition party in parliament.
Moreover, COMFREL found that the ruling party’s lawmakers allowed the arrest and detention of the opposition party’s lawmakers.
Reported for RFA's Khmer Service by Moniroth Morm and Thai Tha. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.