Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday announced plans to amend the election law to bar Cambodians with dual citizenship from being political party leaders—a move apparently aimed at CNRP President Sam Rainsy—and said he would cut off his own right arm were he to arrange another royal pardon for the self-exiled opposition leader.
Mr. Rainsy, who holds both Cambodian and French citizenship, is in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail sentence for a 2011 conviction for defaming Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong.
In March, after months of fraught negotiations, the CNRP and ruling CPP agreed to several amendments of the election law, including a ban on dual citizens holding posts on the National Election Committee.
At a graduation ceremony for university students in Phnom Penh on Monday, Mr. Hun Sen said the CPP would extend the ban to political party leaders in the new year.
“We already have a law stating that the president and members of the National Election Committee can have only Cambodian nationality,” he said.
“So, in the future, the Law on Political Parties must state that political party leaders must have only Cambodian nationality so that when something happens they cannot use foreign passports [to escape] and ask foreigners to intervene.”
Mr. Hun Sen said the ban would also extend to the heads of the Constitutional Council, Senate, National Assembly, Supreme Court and the National Council Against Corruption.
The prime minister said next year would also see the CPP make the so-called culture of dialogue— an informal agreement the parties struck in mid-2014 to keep their political discourse civil—the law of the land.
“I would like to clarify that the culture of dialogue will be written into the law,” Mr. Hun Sen said on Monday. “If you insult others, what kind of sentence will there be? But there will be no prison sentence during the one-month [election] campaign.”
The CPP has accused the opposition of repeatedly violating the informal arrangement. Mr. Hun Sen himself has since warned of mass violence should the CNRP come to power, despite the culture of dialogue’s code of conduct including a ban on such warning of war. The prime minister has claimed that his remarks have not breached the rules because his warnings had a high probability of coming true.
With the ruling party holding an absolute majority in parliament, Mr. Hun Sen added on Monday, his plans for 2016 could not be stopped.
“If any party does not approve, we have enough power to approve the law,” he said. “This is the political message for the end of the year, because we will do it next year.”
However, prominent lawyer and rights advocate Sok Sam Oeun said a ban on party leaders holding dual passports would require a constitutional amendment, which —needing support from two-thirds of lawmakers—is out of the CPP’s reach.
“To me, it is unconstitutional,” he said of Mr. Hun Sen’s plans to ban dual citizenship with only the Law on Political Parties. “The Constitution only says Khmer nationality, it does not say about dual nationality. So if they want to do that, it is better to amend the Constitution first.”
Mr. Hun Sen has proposed bans on dual citizenship before.
In December 2014, he suggested just such a ban for lawmakers and several executive branch positions, but added that he was in no rush to follow through. Months earlier, in March of that year, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the government was mulling legal amendments that would bar dual citizens from becoming prime minister.
At the time, while back in Cambodia following his second royal pardon, Mr. Rainsy said he was prepared to renounce his French citizenship and no longer needed the country as a “safe place” to flee CPP intimidation.
“Now my strength is the support of the Cambodian people,” he said last year. “With this strength, and with the overwhelming and growing support of the Cambodian people, I am invincible, I do not need anything else.”
Mr. Rainsy did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Monday on the prime minister’s latest remarks. The opposition leader went into his latest period of exile last month and has vowed to return in the weeks or months before the 2018 national election.
During Monday’s speech, however, Mr. Hun Sen said he would amputate his own arm were he to arrange a third royal pardon —he orchestrated the first two— for Mr. Rainsy, whom he accused of lying to Cambodians by promising a CNRP victory in 2018.
“If I sign off for a third time, I will cut off my right arm and throw it away,” he said. “By doing so [not signing off], you will not be able to go out and cheat others.”
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)
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