The National Assembly passed a law making adultery a crime on Friday in a move supporters claim will save the nation from rampant extra-marital affairs and which opponents decried as a tool for the ruling CPP to harass its political rivals.
After a heated debate and a mass walkout by Funcinpec parliamentarians, a little more than half of the nation’s 123 lawmakers voted in favor of the new anti-adultery law.
The legislation was passed by a vote of just 64 votes in favor with five lawmakers abstaining.
The law, which outlaws adultery, polygamy and incest, sets a penalty of up to one year in jail for Cambodian citizens caught cheating on their spouses. Fines of up to $244 are also laid out.
“This law is not important for economic growth, and it will interfere with one’s private life and dignity,” said Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Saphann, one of 10 to 15 royalist members who staged the Assembly walkout.
“There are more critical laws such as the Anti-Corruption Law and the [World Trade Organization mandated] laws,” he added.
Sam Rainsy said that no SRP members voted for the measure, while only one Funcinpec parliamentarian, Princess Sisowath Santa, voted for it. Funcinpec lawmakers You Hockry and Ly Thuch along with three SRP members abstained, he said.
Sam Rainsy said the law is a “politically tricky plot,” by the CPP to ruin an individuals political career.
“This law is good in it purpose but we worry that this reflects social and political discrimination which targets someone in one party,” he said, declining to name to whom he was referring.
“The law is hypocritical,” he added.
The sudden passage of the new adultery law comes on the heels of the first visit by Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh to Cambodia in more than five months, and a largely unexplained and hasty departure last Friday.
It also comes amid the disclosure by royalist officials that the prince has been in a long-time relationship with Cambodian classical dancer Ouk Phalla and that the couple have a two-year old son. Prince Ranariddh remains married to his wife of four decades, Princess Marie.
National Assembly President Heng Samrin, a CPP stalwart who took over his position after Prince Ranariddh resigned it in March following a verbal onslaught by Prime Minister Hun Sen against the mistresses of Funcinpec officials, said that the new law will reduce the country’s rampant corruption.
“The law can contribute to the reduction of corruption because one who has many [mistresses], many wives, he would have a bigger greed for wealth,” Heng Samrin said.
“If we are talking about civil servants, that is greed toward the state’s wealth,” he said.
In response to a question to name the offending officials, Heng Samrin replied: “I am not certain who it is who has many wives.”
Critics have warned that new law will likely be implemented selectively and could even require police having to spy on individuals to catch them in the act of cheating.
Rights Group Adhoc Director Thun Saray compared the law to those implemented by the Taliban and others say it harkens back to the dark days of Pol Pot’s radical social control.
“I cannot accept that this law be compared to the Pol Pot regime,” Heng Samrin said. “This law is to reduce misbehavior in our society,” he maintained.
CPP lawmaker and ethnic Cham Sman Tiet also defended the law, saying it does not contradict the Koran, which allows Muslim men to take up to four wives if they can afford to support them.
“If our society needs a smooth law to control…unpleasant acts …Muslim people have to follow that path,” he said.