The fate of the opposition CNRP’s almost 500 commune posts hangs in the balance after the National Assembly yesterday approved amendments to four laws governing the distribution of the party’s seats should it be dissolved.
A total of 67 lawmakers from the ruling CPP passed proposals to amend the legislation on elections for the National Assembly and Senate, as well as provincial, municipal, district and commune councils.
All 55 lawmakers from the CNRP boycotted the session yesterday, half of whom have fled overseas for fear of arrest after opposition leader Kem Sokha was detained for allegedly attempting to topple the government with help from a foreign power.
Pen Panha, CPP lawmaker and head of the Commission on Legislation and Justice, said the law on commune polls needed improving to bolster democracy at the sub-national level.
“The amendment of the law on commune elections strengthens democracy by explaining how to redistribute seats,” he said. “It complies with the current political situation and developments in Cambodia.”
The amendments mean that if a political party renounces a seat or is dissolved, its candidates on commune councils will no longer be valid.
The NEC will instead allocate the vacant seat within 14 days, to a candidate from one of the other political parties who participated in the commune elections.
In June’s local polls, the CPP won 1,156 commune chief posts and the CNRP took 489.
The Khmer National United Party also won one commune chief role, according to official results released by the NEC.
CNRP vice president Eng Chhay Eang, who is among the half of opposition lawmakers living in exile, posted on Facebook to say the amendments to the four laws cannot be implemented “because it opposes the will of the people”.
Yoeurng Sotheara, a legal analyst at election watchdog Comfrel, said the law changes were unconstitutional, warning that people who voted for the CNRP would lose their voice if the redistribution of opposition seats went ahead.
“If they were making the amendments for the next election that would be reasonable,” he said.
Chen Sokngeng, the CNRP chief of Sala Kamreuk commune, said he was not worried about the National Assembly’s political game playing.
He said people must not be afraid and should register to vote to maintain democracy in the country.
“It is an injustice. People vote to support the party they like. If those seats are taken and given to other parties it violates the peoples’ rights,” he said.
Chheang Vannarith of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies and a visiting fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said maintaining the rule of law is one of the core elements of any democracy.
However, he said the rule of law is the most contested concept in Cambodia, since it has been politicized.
“The amended law on political parties will be applied to all parties. But if it is not properly and fairly implemented, it will cause harm to the fragile democracy in Cambodia,” he added.
“Democracy is mainly about people’s participation, political inclusion and representation.”
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea recognised that legal changes to election laws have been passed in the National Assembly, but said it was too early to comment on how CNRP commune seats could be affected.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said political parties would only be dissolved if they broke the law.
“That is why it is necessary to redistribute seats to other parties,” he said.