Parties law rubber-stamped

May Titthara / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Hang Puthea has urged parties to be prepared. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The National Assembly (NA) has passed amendments to electoral laws which could be used to remove political parties.
 
The controversial amendments were carried with the votes of 66 members from the ruling CPP after opposition CNRP members boycotted the session. The ammendments could affect the way the opposition party picks its next leader.
 
Passage of the amendment also brought a rebuke from the United States embassy, which said: “The amendments give the government broad authority to restrict freedom of expression and the legitimate activities of political parties and, under vaguely defined circumstances, to dissolve them.”
 
The amendments still have to go before the Senate and be signed by the king before they become law.
 
Chheang Vun, chairman of the NA Commission for Foreign Affairs, who backed the amendment, said there were up to 76 parties in the country, but only 45 were registered with the Interior Ministry.
 
“After this law comes into force, the Interior Ministry has the possibility of putting it into practice and removing any political parties which fail to fulfill the roles and work of a political party in Cambodia,” Mr. Vun said.
 
Son Chhay, a senior CNRP assembly member, could not be reached for comment. However, CNRP assembly members said the party did not support the CPP push to amend the law.
 
CNRP members said they were concerned that the law might divide the country, was not aligned with the will of the people, was done in a hurry without proper debate and consultation, and was primarily intended to oppress and destroy the opposition party.
 
Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy said on his Facebook on Sunday that the amendments were to strengthen dictatorship and benefit a small number of people.
 
The new article 18 of the law says that parties have to proceed to replace the party president within 90 days of the position becoming vacant.
 
The CNRP says its rules do not allow for the replacement of Mr. Rainsy in less than 18 months, when the party’s next general assembly will be held.
 
Article 44 of the amended law says the court can dissolve any political party that “causes separation, sabotages democracy, undermines the state’s security, creates forces, incites people leading to national disunity and is controlled by foreign governments or political parties.”
 
On Friday, the Election Reform Alliance (ERA) urged the ruling party not to adopt the amendments.
 
It said they were put forward at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling party’s lawmakers and were intended to suspend, stop or dissolve political parties, as well as leaders of political parties.
 
They said implementation of the amendments was a political tool to block the competition from political parties in the upcoming 2017 and 2018 elections.
 
National Assembly secretary-general and spokesman Leng Peng Long said the amendments had only two articles to discuss and this was not rushed.
 
The law would come into force after being checked by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, he said, and it will apply to all parties, he added.
 
“The reason this law was approved before the election is because legislators thought it was time for the law on political parties to be amended. The law is proper practice for a democratic country.”
 
He said that under the old law, disputes were sent to the Constitutional Council.
 
But under the new law, disputes will be sent to the Supreme Court, which alone will be able to make a final decision.
 
He said the opposition’s boycott was its usual habit and was done for political gain.
 
The opposition did not want dialogue any more, he said. If the party wanted a culture of dialogue it should hold discussions in parliament, he added.
 
“They still have not come to work as usual. They should consider coming to the parliament to work and advocate normally.
 
“If they don’t return to the parliament, who can we discuss things with? They are outside parliament and they say there is no democracy,” Mr. Peng Long said.
 
“Is the democracy on the street or in the National Assembly? People voted for them as lawmakers, but they protest on the street, so what democracy is it?
 
“Who said that this law adoption is not legal? Most political parties in every country approve this law.
 
“If we look at the US, their party won and they legislate law. It is called a democratic country. If the party was to commit something wrong and the party was dissolved, all parliamentarians of that party are also dissolved.”
 
The US embassy said Cambodia’s constitution establishes the country as a liberal, multi-party democracy and guarantees its citizens the right to form political parties.
 
“Political parties play a critical role in every democracy,” the US said.
 
“They are an important means by which the will of the people is carried out through governance and legislation.
 
“Cambodians can take pride in their country’s development over the past 25 years: Cambodia has held five national elections and the ongoing voter registration process holds out the prospect of a sixth.
 
“Any government action to ban or restrict parties under the new amendments would constitute a significant setback for Cambodia’s political development and would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the upcoming elections.
 
“We call on the government of Cambodia to take all necessary steps to ensure that the electoral campaigns and elections in 2017 and 2018 are free, open and transparent, that all political parties have the opportunity to compete on an equal basis.”

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