Prime Minister Diagnoses NGOs With ‘Main Character Syndrome’

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday chided a group of NGOs who boycotted a seminar on a pair of proposed election laws, saying the groups suffered from “main character syndrome.”

The main symptom of the affliction, the prime minister explained to some 300 new graduates at the Royal School of Administration, was the misguided belief that one’s refusal to attend an event could prevent the event from taking place.

Dozens of NGOs chose not to attend the seminar on Monday, hosted by lawmakers of the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP to discuss drafts of a new National Election Committee law and a revised law on national elections. The groups say the drafts could prove worse than the election laws that already exist and complained that they were given too little time to review and consider the changes ahead of the event.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hun Sen said the National Assembly would not be inviting the NGOs back again.

“Some civil society groups boycotted the workshop because they suffer from ‘main character syndrome,’” he said. “But I want to ask: Did the boycott cause our deaths? Nobody died, and it went smoothly.”

Some NGOs, the prime minister added, might believe that “without my opinion it will not move forward…. But it’s not like that.”

Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, who helped lead the boycott, said it was actually the prime minister who was suffering from “main character syndrome.”

“His remarks are totally wrong because we do not have main character syndrome, but the CPP and its leaders do,” he said. “We, civil society, are very willing to take part in workshops. But Monday’s workshop was not a real consultative workshop.”

Mr. Panha said the political parties had only invited the NGOs to add a veneer of legitimacy to the drafting process, which took place without them, and that the groups were refusing to play along.

Among the NGOs’ main concerns with the draft revisions to the law on national elections is an article that would ban them from “direct or indirect speech or texts that insult any party or any candidate” or the “release of any statement… supporting or showing bias to or against any activity or any candidate” during election campaigns. They fear the government could use the language to stifle legitimate debate and criticism.

In his speech at the Royal School of Administration, Mr. Hun Sen also suggested another legal change—a constitutional amendment that would allow secretaries of state to be appointed by royal decree instead of a National Assembly vote, as is now required.

“Because a secretary of state or an undersecretary of state is not responsible for giving answers to the National Assembly and the prime minister,” he said. “Only the minister is.”

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said he had not heard of the prime minister’s latest legislative suggestion and declined to weigh in.

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