New Election Law to Strip Assembly Seats if Parties Boycott

The revised national election law—expected to come before parliament this month—includes a provision that allows National Assembly seats to be taken away from any political party that attempts to boycott parliament following an election, according to a draft of the law made public Thursday.

In a speech last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen demanded the new rule be included in the revised law, threatening to have CPP lawmakers block any legislation from passing if it was not.

“The election law that will be put for approval in the future should be ready to state that the lawmakers of any party that doesn’t enter [parliament] when the king convenes, that will be considered an act of relinquishing the seats,” Mr. Hun Sen said on February 25.

At the time, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would have to consult with his party’s lawmakers and legal team about the demand, as the provision might conflict “with the very principle of democracy.”

However, Mr. Rainsy said Thursday that the CNRP had decided the provision was acceptable, as the new election law would ensure a fair election and make “the very question of rejecting a seat…irrelevant.”

“In order to prevent a deadlock in the future, if a party does not accept its seats, it will lose those seats,” Mr. Rainsy said, adding that the law would only apply if an election were conducted in accordance with all relevant laws, including the revised election law.

“This is not for the CNRP alone. This is to be enforced for a long time,” Mr. Rainsy said. “Any party that refuses to take up their seats after a transparent process, there is no reason for them to reject the election process.”

An excerpt from the draft law, posted to the Facebook page of government spokesman Phay Siphan on Thursday, says that an election must follow all relevant laws and receive the approval of the Constitutional Council and the National Election Committee (NEC) before a party risks losing its seats.

“[A]fter the announcement of the election result by the National Election Committee, any political party with one seat or more at the National Assembly shall be considered to have abandoned its seats if: The political party boycotts the first meeting convened by the King; The political party boycotts the meeting for declaration of validity of members of the National Assembly; The political party boycotts taking oaths of office,” the draft law states.

Following the July 2013 election, which the CNRP claimed was rigged by the CPP-dominated NEC, King Norodom Sihamoni convened the first meeting of the new National Assembly despite protests by the CNRP and calls from civil society and foreign governments for an investigation into the election.

During the 10-month opposition boycott that followed, the CNRP insisted that neither the National Assembly nor the government it voted in were legitimate, and led mass demonstrations calling for Mr. Hun Sen to step down or hold a new election.

The CNRP finally agreed to end its boycott in July 2014 after Mr. Hun Sen promised a raft of electoral reforms, including a bipartisan electoral commission and a new election law.

While the final provision added to the election law is meant to prevent such disputes, Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that it was more likely to complicate the postelection process.

“I think they have created a complicated procedure, and…it is not the solution,” he said. “I think there is possible abuse—a lot. Again, the party that controls the National Assembly and government will take advantage of the situation.”

Mr. Panha said the provision was the latest concession by the CNRP in reform talks that have seen the opposition agree to a number of CPP demands in order to keep the process moving forward.

“When we talk personally with [the CNRP], they say they cannot bargain with the CPP, because the CPP says aggressively that it will not move ahead with the election law,” he said.

“The CPP still has the majority in the National Assembly,” he added. “This puts pressure on the CNRP.”

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