Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday called for controversial “freedom parks” to be established in all provinces for political parties to hold gatherings, stating that this would help bolster Cambodian democracy.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the Royal School of Administration, Hun Sen said provincial and municipal authorities should establish the parks, adding that this would give all political parties an equal chance to conduct their election campaigns.
“We do this not only for the sake of our generation but for our children’s generation. We should create a good environment for a pluralism of parties,” he said.
Under a proposed new law on public assembly, all spontaneous protests and demonstrations must be held in the government-designated parks. Advance permits must be obtained for other gatherings, and critics worry the parks will be established far from town centers.
Gatherings in the parks would be limited to 200 people and could not last longer than four hours, according to a recent draft of the law on public assembly. The current draft also states that the law does not apply to election campaign rallies.
Hun Sen also weighed in on the political upheavals in both Nepal and Thailand, where mass public protests forced their country’s leaders to step aside.
Such a situation would not be allowed to happen in Cambodia, Hun Sen said, adding that the Constitution does not allow for parliament to be dissolved as it was in Nepal and Thailand.
“The Cambodian Constitution is very balanced,” Hun Sen said.
Sam Rainsy, head of the party that bears his name, said the SRP opposes Hun Sen limiting the places where political parties and the general public are allowed to gather.
“In a democratic country people can express their opinions wherever they want to,” Sam Rainsy said by telephone.
“Public places belong to the public,” he said, adding that “freedom parks” will not improve the democratic process in Cambodia and that the government should simply ask protesters not to demonstrate violently.
“The freedom park is a restriction on freedom of expression,” he said.
Free Trade Union President Chea Mony said unions are also opposed to the parks.
“The government wants to restrict people’s freedom of expression,” he said.
“I cannot accept to lose freedom of expression,” he said, adding that he feared the government would also try to confine union activities to the parks.
Unions should be able to demonstrate near factories where their members work and not in far-flung parks, he said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, also said he was opposed to the parks.
“In the freedom parks, their voices will not be heard,” he said.