Prime Minister Threatens the Opposition, NGOs With Dissolution

The opposition party’s headquarters could be attacked and the party dissolved if it stages any demonstrations, while foreign-funded NGOs should “retreat” or face the same fate for violating the law, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Thursday.

“Sometime [CPP protestors] might attack at your party headquarters. It could cause trouble that can’t be managed,” he said at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

Mr. Hun Sen said the dissolution of the CNRP under vaguely worded amendments to the Law on Political Parties might be a necessary step to avoid bloodshed and anarchy that protests would bring, referencing mass protests in the wake of the 2013 national elections.

“If you cause disorder, [we will] dissolve your party in order to keep order,” he said. “Why did we amend the Law on Political Parties? To avoid bloodshed. Frankly speaking here, if there were no law, they could do something anarchic that we could not control.”

Rights groups and the opposition have all criticized two batches of amendments passed this year to the law, which they said restricted freedom of speech and assembly and violated the Constitution. Mr. Hun Sen proposed both laws, explicitly targeting exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

But Mr. Hun Sen said on Thursday that the law would contribute to avoiding the kinds of military coups he said Thailand’s military used to keep stability there, warning that the CPP could counter any protests with its own whom he could not control.

The animosity between the ruling party and CNRP was like the cat-and-mouse cartoon Tom and Jerry, he said, putting his spin on a comparison sometimes made by analysts.

“Jerry was very nasty and often stepped on Tom’s foot,” he said.

Civil society groups should also be alert, Mr. Hun Sen said, calling out the ad hoc election monitoring group the Situation Room. The group’s critique of the June commune elections piqued Mr. Hun Sen, who ordered an Interior Ministry investigation that found the group violated the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO).

“So please, foreign agencies and groups who eat foreign funds—please retreat. We are watching you. Your NGOs could be dissolved via the party law,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

It was not clear why Mr. Hun Sen pointed to the Law on Political Parties rather than LANGO, which drew scorn when it was passed in 2015 for its requirement that NGOs maintain political neutrality or have their registration suspended.

Senior CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said it was hard to keep up with the prime minister’s threats of bloodshed, which he hoped were not sincere.

“We don’t believe in violence,” he said of the CNRP. “Cambodian people deserve more than just threats or violence created by the politicians.”

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) and former spokesman of the Situation Room, said that while the prime minister’s threats were stronger than past elections, Nicfec would carry on as usual.

“We don’t take it into consideration, the speech of the prime minister,” he said. “I think it is normal. He spoke many times like that.”

Sotheara Yoeurng, the law and monitoring officer at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel), admitted that several members of the Situation Room seemed less likely to become involved in future election monitoring after months of pressure from the government, though he declined to name them.

But Comfrel and others would continue planning for next year’s vote and cooperate with the Interior Ministry to find a replacement to the Situation Room that would be more palatable to the government, even as it worked under laws it found odious.

“It is the law,” he said. “We have no choice. We have to respect it.”

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