Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s political purges against his political opposition reached a dreadful point, another uglier turn, on Friday. The Senate, by 40 out of 60 members, voted to pass controversial amendments to the law on political parties, allowing the redistribution of MP seats of any dissolved party to minor parties.
It’s a vote-stealing game manoeuvred by Hun Sen. All the 40 senators are members of his ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). The amendments were pushed and passed by CPP lawmakers last Monday following the arrest of Kem Sokha, leader of the increasingly popular main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The latest political manoeuvre by Hun Sen undermines the Cambodian people’s will and the country’s democracy. The legislative effort is to ensure that Hun Sen’s CPP will not lose in the general elections scheduled for July next year and will pave the way for one of the world’s longest rulers, who also pledged to remain the country’s premier for another decade, to stay longer in the top job.
Early last month, Hun Sen allegedly arranged to have Kem Sokha arrested on charges of treason merely for his pro-democracy speech delivered in Melbourne in 2013. He has been jailed since then. If convicted by the Supreme Court, his party will face dissolution under the amended law.
The law amendments are just another legislative attack by Hun Sen against the CNRP. Earlier in February, CPP MPs also passed contentious amendments of the same law, making it possible for political parties to be dissolved if their leaders are criminally convicted. And criminal convictions are a routine state of affairs for CNRP members given a litany of court cases widely believed to be politically motivated, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
This is an unfair, dirty and tricky political game. First, the CPP invented a rule to disband its chief rival, the CNRP. After that, the CNRP leader faced criminal charges that fit the ultimate goal of the new rule. Then, the CPP created another new rule to redistribute the CNRP’s MP seats to minor parties. Given Hun Sen’s sweeping control over state institutions, the dissolution of the CNRP by the Supreme Court is not unexpected.
The major beneficiary of such vote redistribution is the Funcinpec party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who once was Hun Sen’s rival in the 1993 elections supervised by the United Nations. The party won no seats in the last 2013 elections. But thanks to the CPP’s new law, Funcinpec will hold the majority of 55 seats of the CNRP should the latter be disbanded.
In addition to acting as an accomplice in robbing people’s will from the CNRP, Prince Norodom seems to be more than willing to be an ally of Hun Sen. Funcinpec has asked the Supreme Court to dissolve the CRNP over the treason charge alongside the ruling party’s effort.
If the CNRP is dissolved, the National Assembly will be controlled by CPP and Funcinpec, who may join hands in inventing even more senseless laws to suppress the opposition and political rivals. Then, Hun Sen will be at ease with his aim of killing the chance of the CNRP, his only viable challenger, to run in the 2018 elections.
But he needs to realise that what he has been doing and will be doing more will further radicalise Cambodians who are reluctant to be tamed nowadays.
The CNRP’s near-victory in the 2013 general elections, plagued with fraud allegations, has made Hun Sen less secure in keeping the status quo of his authoritarian regime. Street protests by tens of thousands of Cambodians following the 2013 election should stand as a reminder to Hun Sen that the political stability and national unity he expected will be at risk of being replaced by a political crisis.
Cambodia’s unpleasant political game is similar to what has happened in its next-door neighbour, Thailand, under the control of the military regime.
The military-appointed Thai lawmakers have invented laws to make it more challenging for the country’s most popular party, Pheu Thai, to win an outright majority in next year’s elections. Pheu Thai is another reincarnated party of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra following dissolutions of his former parties.
New laws have also been invented to be retroactively applied to cases against Thaksin and his sister, deposed prime minister Yingluck. The retroactive effect contradicts the principle of law.
Such legal tactics along with suppression of political dissent by both Cambodian and Thai authoritative regimes will not only pose threats to the rule of law and human rights but also, again, reverse some progress made in democratisation in the countries in the past decades.
For Cambodia, Hun Sen needs to be aware that the victory in the 2018 election that his party may achieve will not be legitimate. His dirty game will instead radicalise his people to rise up against his ruling regime.