CNRP lawmakers decided on Sunday to boycott today’s National Assembly vote on legal amendments giving the government and courts broad new powers to suspend and dissolve the long-ruling CPP’s political rivals.
The CPP has moved quickly to get the proposed amendments to the Law on Political Parties to a vote since Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested them earlier this month. At the time, Mr. Hun Sen made it clear that the changes were aimed squarely at the CNRP, which nearly defeated the CPP in national elections four years ago and remains its only credible rival for next year’s contest.
The CNRP announced its decision to stay away from the vote in a statement listing its reasons following a meeting of the party’s lawmakers in Phnom Penh. It said the changes would violate the principles of a liberal, multiparty democracy and “cause serious national disintegration.” The changes were not what Cambodians wanted, it said, and would be used “for the suppression and destruction of rival parties.”
Contacted afterward, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the opposition, lacking the Assembly seats to block the bill, did not want to give the vote the legitimacy of the party’s presence.
“If we just attend to sit there and not raise our hands, it’s no use,” he said. “We do not want to be captured in the same picture where that bad law is amended.”
Under the changes, the Supreme Court would be allowed to dissolve any party over the conviction of a single top party official and bar its entire leadership from political activity for five years. Separately, they would let the Interior Ministry suspend a party for as long as it chooses over a short list of vaguely worded infractions including “incitement that would lead to national disintegration,” a phrase the government has often used to throw its critics in jail.
Local and international criticism of the proposed amendments has been growing.
On Friday, the Electoral Reform Alliance, a coalition of local NGOs working to promote democracy in the country, and the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), a caucus of lawmakers from across the regional bloc, both issued statements urging the CPP not to approve the changes. APHR chairman Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian parliament, called them “the death knell for democracy in Cambodia.”
On Wednesday, U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal urged the Assembly “to set aside this undemocratic law” on the floor of the House of Representatives.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said on Sunday that neither the local and international rebuke nor the opposition’s boycott would stop the bill.
“It’s their freedom of expression, but it puts no pressure on the Assembly to do its job,” he said. “The National Assembly follows the obligations and principles of the Constitution and the National Assembly’s internal rules.”