A proposed law to criminalize adultery was hotly debated Thursday, with CPP lawmakers arguing that it would protect family values and the Sam Rainsy Party countering that it was the hallmark of a totalitarian state.
CPP lawmaker Som Kimsour urged the National Assembly to back the contentious legislation, saying it would preserve Cambodia’s dignity and prevent children from being raised in broken homes.
“The law will protect our Khmer society’s dignity, and [promote] mutual respect between one husband and wife,” she said. “It will offer morality to people to behave responsibly in a family.”
Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Sophan said the law—which could put unfaithful spouses behind bars for up to a year—was the work of female CPP parliamentarians.
“It’s all CPP women who initiated the idea,” he told reporters outside the Assembly.
SRP lawmaker Ke Sovannroth told parliament Thursday that the new morality law is an unacceptable attempt to police people’s private lives.
“In a democratic country, they never charge people with crimes related to love, emotions and ethics. They don’t imprison people because of that,” she said.
Few regimes other than the Taliban in Afghanistan have proposed such stringent measures, she said, adding: “This law is going backwards.”
Under Pol Pot, people were told they would be executed for extramarital affairs, but this still did not stop them, Ke Sovannroth added. The family should take responsibility when its members are unfaithful, not the state, she added. “The law cannot help with family affairs.”
She also questioned whether the law would serve the best interests of Cambodia’s children. Children will suffer double humiliation if, once their parent’s infidelity becomes known, the parent is then publicly prosecuted, she said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said this week that CPP officials may be afraid that extramarital affairs are undermining their powerful family dynasties, which are cemented by close intermarriage between political and business elites.
In May, wives of top CPP officials rallied against the dangers of high technology and succeeded in pushing Prime Minister Hun Sen to ban the latest generation of mobile phones. The wives were apparently prompted by fears that younger women could use the 3G phones’ video technology to seduce husbands.
Ek Samol, CPP legislation chairman, denied that the law would take Cambodia back in time. He also claimed that several developed countries have similar draconian morality laws.
“Some people compare this law to Pol Pot’s and the Taliban’s, but Australia, the USA and Canada all have the law,” he claimed. “The law has good intentions to strictly control morality in society.”
CPP lawmaker Khoun Sodary said she supported the legislation because only a strong hand can deal with Cambodia’s prevailing climate of immorality.
“The law is so important and it reflects Cambodia’s current situation,” she said.
The legislation will also help reduce corruption, as government officials are currently acquiring money dishonestly to lavish it on their mistresses, she added.
Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Sisowath Santa said she, too, backed the law. “The law will straighten the line to finish our bad habits and make them good habits,” she said.
But not everyone in the CPP/ Funcinpec coalition government agreed.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said by telephone that he was personally opposed to the draft, and that Cambodia is not a “monk society.”
On occasion, he said, a little extramarital activity can be a beneficial stress reliever.
“If not, there will be bad tempers and fights in the office,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith also warned that such a severe law would damage the country’s international reputation.
“The law will make us ashamed in front of other countries,” he said.
Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said he could not understand why the law was suddenly being treated with such urgency.
The legislation will likely be implemented against mistresses rather than their high-ranking lovers, he said.
“Women will be the vulnerable victims of the law,” he said.
National Assembly President Heng Samrin said he will push for the law to be passed today.