CPP in fresh power grab

Party set to amend laws to take all of CNRP’s com­mune chief seats

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Mech Dara and An­drew Nachem­son

NEWLY leaked pro­posed amend­ments to Cam­bo­dia’s elec­tion law re­veal that the CPP would be el­i­gi­ble to take all 489 of the CNRP’s com­mune chief seats in the event of the op­po­si­tion’s dis­so­lu­tion, leav­ing the rul­ing party in con­trol of all but one of the coun­try’s 1,646 com­munes.

The newly pro­posed Ar­ti­cle 20 ex­plains that if a po­lit­i­cal party aban­dons its seat, or is re­moved, the seats will be “dis­trib­uted to can­di­dates of other po­lit­i­cal par­ties that com­pet- ed in the com­mune elec­tion within 14 days”.

The ar­ti­cle con­trasts with pro­posed amend­ment to the Na­tional As­sem­bly Elec­tion Law – also re­cently leaked – which spec­i­fies that par­ties cur­rently in par­lia­ment will not be el­i­gi­ble to take newly va­cant seats. If the CNRP is in­deed dis­solved, its seats will be pro­por­tion­ally awarded to a hand­ful of mi­nor par­ties, rather than go­ing to the CPP, as they would have been un­der the cur­rent law.

The Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party – the coun­try’s largest op­po­si­tion and the only cur­rent le­git­i­mate com­peti­tor to the long-rul­ing Cam­bo­dian Peo­ple’s Party – is un­der threat of dis­so­lu­tion fol­low­ing a for­mal com­plaint to the Supreme Court lodged by the Min­istry of In­te­rior. The party’s pres­i­dent, Kem Sokha, is cur­rently in pre­trial de­ten­tion on widely de­cried charges of “trea­son”

for say­ing he re­ceived po­lit­i­cal ad­vice from the US.

Other re­cent changes to the coun­try’s Law on Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties – rammed through par­lia­ment by the rul­ing party ear­lier this year – for­bid par­ties from as­so­ci­at­ing with “con­victs” or col­lud­ing with for­eign pow­ers.

Though Sokha has yet to be con­victed, and no ev­i­dence for his al­leged trea­son has been pre­sented apart from a pub­licly avail­able 2013 video in which he made the re­marks, Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen promised on Wed­nes­day that the party’s dis­so­lu­tion will hap­pen “soon”.

The com­mune coun­cil and chief seats would be re­dis­tributed ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial vote tal­lies, mi­nus all votes cast for the party aban­don­ing or be­ing re­moved from its seats. Ac­cord­ing to that for­mula, CPP would end up with 1,645 out of 1,646 com­mune chief po­si­tions. One com­mune in Ban­teay Meanchey is held by the mi­nor Kh­mer Na­tional United Party – whose founder and for­mer pres­i­dent, Nhek Bun Ch­hay, is cur­rently await­ing trial on years-old drug charges.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan con­firmed that the leaked draft was au­then­tic, but de­spite the fact that the rul­ing party drafted the amend­ment it­self, he de­nied that the CPP would take those seats.

“How can we say that we dis­trib­ute the seat to this or that party? We need to wait un­til the Na­tional As­sem­bly adopts [the law] first,” he said.

The pro­posed amend­ments yes­ter­day were for­warded to the Leg­isla­tive and Jus­tice Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional As­sem­bly, where the CPP has all the votes it needs to pass the amend­ments in­tact.

Kim Sour Phirith, a CNRP law­maker and mem­ber of the com­mit­tee, boy­cotted the Na­tional As­sem­bly ses­sion yes­ter­day along with all of his op­po­si­tion col­leagues. “We’d go if we can pre­vent them from do­ing that, but they can do what­ever they want. We’d be sit­ting, sharp­en­ing the knife for them to slit our throat,” Phirith said.

Not­ing the dif­fer­ences in the draft laws at the As­sem­bly and com­mune lev­els, Se­bas­tian Stran­gio, au­thor of Hun Sen’s Cam­bo­dia, said that the Na­tional As­sem­bly seats are “sym­bolic” and “ab­stract” in com­par­i­son to com­mune seats, which are the “bedrock” and “back­bone” of the CPP’s true power.

“The com­mune level pres­ence of the CNRP . . . rep­re­sented a more sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge to the CPP’s power than the CNRP oc­cu­py­ing some mi­nor­ity po­si­tion in the Na­tional As­sem­bly,” he said.

Stran­gio also noted that the pres­sure on the CNRP had been stepped up af­ter their un­prece­dented suc­cess in the re­cent com­mune elec­tions. “Ever since that re­sult we’ve seen dra­matic es­ca­la­tion,” Stran­gio said.

Ex­plain­ing the govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to give away the CNRP’s Na­tional As­sem­bly seats while cap­tur­ing its com­munes, Stran­gio said that the CPP oc­cu­py­ing ev­ery sin­gle as­sem­bly seat would catch the at­ten­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in a way that its tak­ing all but one com­mune won’t.

“Na­tional pol­i­tics is what ev­ery­one looks at,” he said.

Speak­ing from Ber­lin, where she fled fol­low­ing threats of ar­rest, op­po­si­tion Deputy Pres­i­dent Mu Sochua said the CPP “want to take back their base they lost to CNRP”. She added that while mi­nor par­ties might prove com­pli­ant part­ners in the Na­tional As­sem­bly, “th­ese par­ties won’t help them keep grass­roots con­trol”.

Sochua spoke with other party lead­ers about the Supreme Court case over the party’s dis­so­lu­tion on Wed­nes­day night, but de­clined to com­ment on the out­come.

Peng Heng, one of the lawyers work­ing on Sokha’s trea­son case, said two of his col­leagues on Wed­nes­day also dis­cussed the dis­so­lu­tion case with the im­pris­oned Sokha, who has con­tin­ued to ab­stain from giv­ing power of at­tor­ney to any lawyer to rep­re­sent the CNRP.

“He con­sid­ers it to be a po­lit­i­cal game. It’s not about the rule of law,” Heng said.

Dr Paul Cham­bers, a lec­turer at the Col­lege of Asean Com­mu­nity Stud­ies at Nare­suan Univer­sity, said the CPP’s “par­lia­men­tary ma­nip­u­la­tion game” is all part of a plot to con­quer the op­po­si­tion.

“With the CNRP gone, the CPP has the chance to com­pletely con­trol the com­mune seats,” he said, adding that th­ese lo­cal of­fi­cials can help in­flu­ence the cru­cial up­com­ing na­tional elec­tion sched­uled for next July. “They can help dis­trib­ute CPP ‘pork bar­rel’ items to lo­cal vot­ers while mon­i­tor­ing them for pos­si­ble signs of dis­sent.”

He added that the pas­sage of the laws is now in­evitable. “In Cam­bo­dia to­day, pro­posed laws by the CPP might not yet de jure be law but de facto they are.”

HONG MENEA

CPP law­mak­ers, seen on a mon­i­tor at the Na­tional As­sem­bly, sit in the body’s half-empty cham­bers dur­ing a ple­nary ses­sion that was boy­cotted by the op­po­si­tion CNRP yes­ter­day amid an in­ten­si­fy­ing po­lit­i­cal crack­down.

HONG MENEA

Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen regis­ters his at­ten­dance be­fore walk­ing into a ses­sion at the Na­tional As­sem­bly yes­ter­day in Ph­nom Penh.

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