Officials Challenge Government’s News Report About Parties

Election and Interior Ministry officials have denied parts of a government news report claiming that 12 political parties—not including the CNRP—would likely be barred from fielding candidates in June’s commune elections based on pending legislation.

Government news service Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) ran the story on Tuesday, a day after the National Assembly approved amendments to a 20-year-old law giving the Interior Ministry and Supreme Court broad new powers to suspend and dissolve whole political parties.

cam photo nec sovannara1
National Election Committee chairman Sik Bunhok speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh last year. (Khem Sovannara)

Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed the changes earlier this month specifically to go after the CNRP, which nearly defeated his long-ruling CPP in national elections four years ago and remains its only real challenger next year.

Though the amendments are unlikely to meet any resistance, they do not become law until being passed by the Senate and signed by the king.

Citing National Election Committee (NEC) spokesman Hang Puthea, AKP reported that 12 registered parties “have been convicted for one reason or another.”

“Under the amended Political Party Law, added the spokesperson, NEC is not supposed to register any candidates nominated by convicted political parties.”

The existing party law appears to mention only bankruptcy as justification for having a court dissolve a party. Only once amended will the Interior Ministry have the power to indefinitely suspend a party for breaking any law. The Supreme Court will also be allowed to dissolve a party if it violates one of a list of new, vaguely worded offenses, including “incitement that would lead to national disintegration.”

The amendments do not explain what could constitute a “party” offense. But Mr. Hun Sen has said he wants to use the convictions of party leaders to do away with entire parties.

Contacted on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Puthea said AKP misunderstood the remarks attributed to him. The spokesman said he had been informed by the Interior Ministry that the 12 parties were being sued, not that they had been convicted, and that candidates would only be barred from registering if their parties are dissolved by the court—and only once the amendment becomes law.

“If a [party] leader is found guilty and convicted, the leader is replaced and the party still operates. If the court decides that the party will be dissolved, the names of the candidates will also be deleted,” he said.

An Veasna, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s associations and political parties department, said the ministry filed lawsuits against the 12 parties between 2003 and 2015 because they had failed to submit their annual reports to both the interior and finance ministries as required.

He said seven of the cases were still pending and that five of the parties have been convicted and fined.

Asked about the AKP report’s claim that all 12 parties had been convicted, the agency’s director, Sok Mom Nimul, said the information had come from an announcement the NEC issued on February 14. She said the announcement had labeled them all as “convicted.”

In fact, the announcement says only that the parties are “being sued at the court.”

Asked why AKP’s understanding of the grounds for blocking candidates differed from the NEC’s, Ms. Mom Nimul said: “I will look into it.”

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