The ruling CPP on Monday pressed ahead with legal amendments that would let the government move to dissolve political parties over the crimes of their leaders or if the parties make “serious” legal mistakes, saying the changes could be passed within days.
Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed changes to the Law on Political Parties earlier this month, making it clear that he was targeting the opposition CNRP, which came close to defeating the CPP in the 2013 national elections. Sam Rainsy, who was the CNRP’s president until Saturday while living in exile in Paris to evade a two-year prison sentence for defamation, resigned in the hope of saving the party.
The surprise resignation, however, did not slow down the National Assembly’s permanent committee, which voted to send the draft amendments to the Assembly’s legislative and justice commission for review. The commission will then send them back to the committee—with any proposed changes—which can then schedule a vote by the full Assembly, which the CPP also controls.
After Monday’s session, CPP lawmaker and spokesman Chheang Vun said a vote could happen within days.
“It depends on the study by the legislative and justice commission,” he said. “If they finish it tomorrow, we will do it immediately.”
The CPP is proposing to amend 27 of the law’s 45 articles and add five more.
One article would bar anyone with a conviction carrying a non-suspended jail sentence from the post of party president, or deputy president or from a seat on the steering committee. Another would let the Interior Ministry “temporarily suspend” any party that violates the Constitution or any other law and “file a complaint with the Supreme Court to dissolve the political party in the case of serious mistakes.”
The leaders of a political party that is dissolved would be banned from any political activity for five years, the same length as the country’s political cycle. The draft provides no definition for a serious mistake, no limit on the length of a suspension and no explanation of what would constitute a legal violation by “the party.”
“We add these important things to ensure democracy, the throne and unity and to stop the nation from disintegrating,” Mr. Vun said. “We know that the road is not easy because there is a lot of grass that grows on democracy and the rule of law. We must dig up that grass.”
Mr. Hun Sen is widely believed to have final say over court cases of any political significance.
CNRP lawmaker Yem Ponhearith said he and the other three opposition lawmakers on the permanent committee who attended the session all voted against sending the draft for review, believing it needed feedback from all parties first.
Mu Sochua, the CNRP’s public affairs director, said the proposals were a violation of the Constitution.
“Some of these articles contradict the principles of the Constitution, which talks about political freedom, because the political parties are the ones that take part in political affairs,” she said.