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Law changes blamed for stifling freedom

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times Share:
The killing of Kem Ley has had a ‘chilling’ affect on freedom of expression, says Lao Mong Hay. KT/Mai Vireak

Veteran political analyst Lao Mong Hay says recent amendments to the Law on Political Parties were aimed only at ending the political career of Sam Rainsy. He speaks to Khuon Narim

KT: Could you comment on the overall political situation in Cambodia?

Mr Mong Hay: Party pluralism in the country has declined, especially since the election in 2013. It is not good because competing political parties now treat each other as enemies. As Interior Minister Sar Kheng said last year, political rivals should treat one another as competition and not as the enemy. They should work together in the National Assembly to come up with ideas to benefit the whole nation.

KT: What do you think about the swift amendment of the Law on Political Parties?

Mr Mong Hay: I think it was a bad move for society. According to our constitution, the purpose of laws are to serve our people. They should be formed through the National Assembly, which is the representative of the people. But the amendment of this law came from one person, Prime Minister Hun Sen.

It is not the first time Mr Hun Sen has come up with an idea or ordered a change in the law, as in 2013, when he formed a law to punish anyone who denied the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Earlier this year he ordered amendments on internal National Assembly rules, deleting the roles of minority and majority leaders in parliament, as well as twice amending the Law on Political Parties. The amendments to the political parties law were directed to eliminate the political life of Sam Rainsy. It is different in democratic countries, where laws do not target individuals in this way. This was clearly targeted at one group.

KT: What do you think about the wording of the law?

Mr Mong Hay: The technical language of our laws means there is a large scope for interpretation, such as the use of the word “subversion”.  What exactly is an activity of subversion? This language allows judges to interpret the law widely, like stretching out a net to catch or arrest as many people as they can.

Take the idea of a “colour revolution” for example. There is no law to cover it specifically, but it is an offence and a suspect can be arrested in relation to it.  Where is the law? It does not exist yet, but judges use the law on incitement to commit felony. The public still do not understand what a colour revolution is and what activities would constitute it.

Another issue is that law enforcement is lacking but government and ministers have a huge amount of power to make decisions or punish people they say have committed unlawful acts.

Our court system is a political instrument of the government. The courts are under pressure to bow to politics, not to be independent.

KT: What does the amended Law on Political Parties mean for the opposition CNRP?

Mr Mong Hay: The opposition will have to reduce their involvement with former leader Sam Rainsy and will not be able to use his ideas or any images of him.

But the law is not totally clear. It has prohibited the use of his picture and ideas now that he is convicted. But how about the activities he was involved in before he was found guilty? Could someone publish a picture of the Prime Minister hugging Sam Rainsy?

It is a big loss if someone with good ideas and who happens to be a convict cannot use their knowledge to help the nation and reform society.

I have been accused of siding with the opposition for saying that, but I think of cases like that of former South African president Nelson Mandela. He was accused of being a criminal for fighting racism and served 27 years in prison, but he ended up being the country’s first black head of state. The ruling party has made the opposition weak and limited its activities, which could risk splits or conflict in the party. So it is a big gain for the CPP.

KT: Are you optimistic that politicians could work together for the nation?

Mr Mong Hay: There is an opportunity to work together but politicians are still holding on to an old mindset and fail to negotiate or sit down together to settle issues that are affecting citizens. Even civil society organisations do the same.

There have been lost opportunities for our leaders to build a culture of dialogue and work together, with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy at the foundation of this.

Why didn’t they do more to work together? It was difficult, but we must always persevere by working together in order to move forward and spread out dialogue to sub-national levels and villages. The leaders should restore a culture of dialogue as soon as possible.

KT: What do you think about the political situation the election in 2018?

Mr Mong Hay: I can’t make any prediction. In politics, even what happens in one day is enough to change the minds or feelings of people.

KT: Are analysts scared of criticising the government after the killing of Kem Ley and its impact?

Mr Mong Hay: Their lives are under threat for expressing their opinions on the radio. The case has had a chilling effect on people, reducing the scope of what they will say or stopping them analysing at all.  We lose the ideas and opinions of people with knowledge, who are able to see the real situation in society with clarity. So our leaders also lose access to truth.

The truth has always been very important to Cambodia, such as in the Angkor era, when our Brahman kings valued truth as the basis for all state decision-making.

Kem Ley sought the truth. He went to conduct research in the field, collected clear data and information on specific issues and then provided possible resolutions.

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