The opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) says it will boycott today’s Senate vote on legal amendments that will give the government and courts broad new powers to suspend and dissolve political parties over vaguely worded offenses left open for interpretation.
The Senate’s permanent committee met on Monday to schedule a vote on the proposed changes to the Law on Political Parties, which the CPP-dominated chamber is widely expected to approve.
Teav Vannol, acting president of the SRP, said his party, lacking the votes to block the bill, would boycott the session.
“If we attend, they will tell the people that our party also joined to amend this law,” he said of the ruling party. “We will not attend because we think it is dangerous for the nation and the opposition party.”
When Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed the changes earlier this month, he said he wanted to use them to target the CNRP, which nearly defeated his long-ruling CPP in national elections four years ago and remains its only credible rival for next year’s contest.
Rights groups and elections observers say the changes would be a major blow to hopes of turning Cambodia into a genuine democracy. The CPP-dominated National Assembly approved the amendments last week in a vote also boycotted by the opposition.
Both the U.S. and the E.U have publicly expressed their concern over the law and said that using it to prevent parties from participating in commune elections in June or national elections next year could undermine the legitimacy of those votes.
Others, such as Human Rights Watch, have been more alarmist about the legal changes, calling them “a gun aimed straight at the heart of the opposition CNRP.”
CPP Senator Mong Reththy, a prominent businessman and philanthropist, said that he thought the law would be good for political stability.
“I think the country’s leader, especially the CPP, has thought a lot about how to make politics become stable,” he said. “If there is political instability, who dares to invest?”
After being passed by the Senate, the law would only require the signature of King Norodom Sihamoni, who has never blocked a CPP-backed bill, before coming into force.