Opposition figure Sam Rainsy would effectively be cut off from any ties to the CNRP under a controversial set of CPP-sponsored changes to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties.
Political parties will be barred from cooperating with those convicted of crimes or from using images, audio recordings and writings produced by lawbreakers to promote their causes, in reform seemingly targeting Mr. Rainsy.
The exiled former opposition leader has a list of convictions from legal cases that have piled up since he left Cambodia in November 2015 and never returned.
On Thursday, the CNRP vowed to boycott Monday’s National Assembly vote on the changes to the law, which also include sweeping new rules on party names and logos, saying it violates the Constitution and human rights.
The reform was spurred by a speech Prime Minister Hun Sen gave last week. Without naming Mr. Rainsy, Mr. Hun Sen accused the former CNRP president of meddling in the party and country’s affairs and provoking civil discord.
These proposals mark the second set of changes to the law in the last six months. The first set, which allowed courts to dissolve parties with convicted criminals at the helm, forced the lawsuit-riddled Mr. Rainsy’s resignation as party president in February.
The text of the latest changes was revealed publicly for the first time on Thursday at a meeting of the National Assembly’s permanent committee, which put aside its prescheduled business to consider the proposed changes.
The proposal adds three points to Article 6 of the law.
Two new points bar parties from “using voice, images, documents in writing or activities of the convict convicted of felony or misdemeanor” or “openly or tacitly agreeing or conspiring” with convicts for the political benefits of the party. A third point bans parties from conspiring with convicts to disrupt state security.
Parties that violate the provisions could be suspended for up to five years by courts or dissolved entirely.
A revised Article 11 bars parties from featuring the names of any individual in their party name. Logos featuring religious iconography, past and present kings, the Angkor Wat temple, photographs of a person, or “national symbols” are also prohibited. Names of new parties must be distinct from existing parties.
The Sam Rainsy Party, Funcinpec, the Cambodian Youth Party, Khmer Power Party and Republican Democracy Party would all seem to violate the new provisions, depending on how they are interpreted.
Changes to the names and logos must be made within 90 days of the law going into effect, the text says.
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said the committee had decided to push the changes, which he claimed would “protect the interest of the liberal multiparty democracy and power of the state,” to a vote in a plenary session scheduled on Monday.
He denied the legislation had anything to do with Mr. Rainsy—whose legal woes are widely seen as politically motivated—even as CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said in a radio interview earlier this week that the proposal was designed to “kill Sam Rainsy’s political career.”
In the same breath, Mr. Vun said the government “would not allow the convict to come” back and said any foreign intervention to secure his return would “break the nation.”
But he claimed the CPP didn’t want to see the CNRP dissolved.
“We need a partner…to make our democracy live on,” Mr. Vun said.
CNRP Vice President Eng Chhay Eang on Thursday panned the proposal and said his party would not be in attendance at Monday’s vote.
“We cannot join in a law that restricts people’s freedom, violates the constitution, and violates treaties [protecting] citizen and political rights,” he said after the meeting.
Nonetheless, Mr. Chhay Eang said the CNRP would go through the steps of removing Mr. Rainsy’s photograph from the party’s banners and signs, which are found throughout the country, and reverse the law if it wins next year’s election.
Mr. Rainsy described the government’s efforts as “ridiculous” and claimed the effort showed the extent to which Mr. Hun Sen feared his longtime rival.
“However, I am concerned that my like-minded CNRP former colleagues, all government critics and all Cambodian democrats will be held hostages by the authoritarian CPP-led government but I will resist blackmail and, at the same time, do my best to ensure that I will be the only person they will blame and want to punish,” he wrote in an email on Thursday.
Markus Karbaum, a German political scientist who studies Cambodia, said the proposal was based on the mistaken vision of the CNRP as a one-man show.
“I think the opposition is more than that despite its ineffective internal structures and general weak capacities,” he wrote in an email. “There are some popular politicians who, as a team, are able to manage the party and attract voters.”
Other CNRP voters were motivated mostly by their dissatisfaction with the ruling party, he said, and would not be swayed by the amendments.
“Hence, the CNRP can remain quite relaxed,” he said.
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