Peeved by opposition figure Sam Rainsy’s continued online criticism of his government, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked lawmakers on Wednesday to consider a second round of changes to the Law on Political Parties to keep the exiled “prisoner” out of Cambodian politics.
“We aren’t afraid of you, but we don’t want you to get involved in [our] country’s achievements,” Mr. Hun Sen said at the CPP’s 66th anniversary celebration in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Rainsy said Mr. Hun Sen was powerless to shut him up from abroad, while Sophal Ear, author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy,” said any crackdown would play right into the opposition’s hands.
“This is like giving a gift to the opposition,” Mr. Ear wrote in an email. Mr. Rainsy “must be pushing all the right buttons. If he weren’t, he’d be ignored.”
Responding to a litany of criticism from Mr. Rainsy—the former opposition president who has in recent weeks hectored Mr. Hun Sen’s relationship with Vietnam, his alleged fear of losing power and, in a series of cartoons, the size of his gut—Mr. Hun Sen said he’d had enough of his rival’s continued involvement in the CNRP.
“Do prisoners have the right to join political parties?” Mr. Hun Sen asked thousands of white-capped CPP supporters in a Koh Pich parking lot, alluding to a growing stack of charges against Mr. Rainsy widely seen as politically motivated.
The National Assembly already passed one round of amendments barring convicts from holding senior party positions earlier this year in a move that forced Mr. Rainsy’s resignation in February, the prime minister reminded the crowd. But the rules, which the prime minister said at the time were targeted at the CNRP, hadn’t stopped the “shameless” Mr. Rainsy from getting involved in party affairs, Mr. Hun Sen said, without ever naming his rival.
“How about legal measures?” he asked. “Why does the prisoner become an endless warmonger?”
“I suggest members of the CPP parliament review whether to propose an amendment to the Law on Political Parties to stop those who are known prisoners to do activities like this, because this thing is a legal thing and we are not joking,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
The prime minister then mocked the longtime opposition figure for claiming that Mr. Hun Sen was too afraid to lift a travel ban against him, saying Mr. Rainsy had backtracked on his bluster once the ban was lifted earlier this month.
“If you’re brave, then come; the door is already open,” he said.
He also ribbed current CNRP President Kem Sokha, who urged the electorate not to “waste” their votes on minor parties—a comment that prompted a lawsuit from the president of the tiny Cambodian Youth Party.
“I didn’t expect that the one who never won…looks down on minor parties,” he said, urging CPP officials to respect such smaller parties.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said on Wednesday that ruling party lawmakers were already at work reviewing the Law on Political Parties to make the prime minister’s suggested changes for submission to the National Assembly “soon,” though he said it was too early to provide details of the amendments.
Mr. Rainsy “is not a party member, so they are going to fix the law,” he said. The CPP “won’t just do it; we’ll do it seriously.”
Fresh off a CNRP speaking tour at fundraisers in California, Mr. Rainsy wrote from his home in exile in Paris that he had no plans to lay off the prime minister, regardless of the potential repercussions for his former colleagues.
“He is annoyed by my Facebook posts seen by millions of people in Cambodia,” Mr. Rainsy wrote in an email on Wednesday saying that the internet had transformed the distribution of information in favor of democracy. “Small dictators like Hun Sen can do nothing against this trend…. We will continue to expose the truth without necessarily or unnecessarily provoking Hun Sen.”
Prince Sisowath Thomico, a member of the CNRP’s steering committee, said there was an informal “ongoing dialogue” between Mr. Sokha and Mr. Rainsy but the latter had no role in the party.
The prince expected the prime minister to forge ahead with his plans—“but to no avail.”
Still, the amendment “might bring a change to our signs,” which still feature Mr. Rainsy alongside Mr. Sokha, he said.
Mr. Ear, the author, said it was unfair to hold the CNRP accountable for a resigned member’s activities.
“Rainsy’s not in Cambodia but holding the CNRP hostage seems to be an old strategy that only riles up voters for the CNRP,” he predicted. “I don’t see Rainsy changing his approach. It will only give him more fodder.”