CPP and SRP lawmakers hotly debated the draconian military conscription law at the National Assembly on Tuesday, though time ran out before they could vote on whether to adopt the controversial legislation.
CPP officials told parliament that the law is needed to protect Cambodia in times of war. But SRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang argued that it could be used to draft people opposed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party and that the government should instead focus on passing the long-awaited anti-corruption law.
The vote has been postponed until today.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that he supported the conscription law, which would require all men between the ages of 18 and 30 to register and, if required, serve 18 months of military service.
“We must protect our country. If we don’t protect our country there is nothing else for us to protect,” he told parliament.
“We have peace, but we must also prepare for war,” he added.
Cheam Yeap said the number of soldiers the Ministry of Defense would recruit would be based on the available budget, adding that young men will not be forced to join the military if they are an only child.
“We don’t force the parents who have only one child to send the child to serve the military service,” he said.
According to the draft law, after recruits have completed 18 months of military service, they may return to their civilian lives, but will be kept on the military’s list of reserves and can be called back into service when needed.
If the law is passed, all men between the ages of 18 and 30 must register with the “authorities” and await notification by the Defense Ministry.
“People who are notified to serve the military and do not respond within 30 days will be regarded as criminals,” the draft law states. “In times of peace they will face one year in prison and in times of war they will face three years in prison,” the draft states.
“If they disable themselves or flee to a foreign country in times of peace they will face three months to two years in prison and during times of war will face six months to five years in prison,” the draft adds.
Women aged between 18 and 30 may also join as volunteers, but cannot be conscripted, according to the draft.
CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel said he firmly backed the law.
“Khmers are real warriors,” he declared.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, who chairs the Assembly’s commission on national defense, boycotted the session. SRP President Sam Rainsy and his wife and fellow SRP lawmaker Tioulong Saumura walked out as the debate began.
Sam Rainsy could not be reached for comment after the debate.
“I boycotted because I don’t want to be responsible for the conscription law,” Yim Sovann said by telephone. He added that people should not be press-ganged into the military, and that the government should declare how many young men it will conscript each year.
Eng Chhay Eang said that he was concerned the government would use the law to round up its opponents.
“I am afraid that the government will draft people who they don’t like and who don’t support the ruling party,” he told parliament.
“When we have peace we don’t need to have a conscription law.”
Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San claimed that SRP lawmakers were a small group who “pollute the environment and are selfish.”
Khieu San added: “What does the country do for you and what do you do for the country?”
Teenagers should not be out dancing in nightclubs, but should spend their time in military service instead, Khieu San said.
“If I had a son I would have him serve in the military,” he said, adding that jobs for young men are scarce and the military can provide them with temporary employment.
CPP Defense Minister Tea Banh said the SRP was trying to mire the conscription effort in politics.
“[The SRP] makes political problems to obstruct the law,” he told the Assembly.
“We have to sacrifice a little bit of our time to protect our country,” he added.