The Cambodian Senate has approved four amendments that deal with election laws and the prospective redistribution of legislative seats. Forty senators—all members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)—voted in favor of the proposed changes during a Senate meeting on October 20.
The amendments made it through the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, earlier this month on October 16.
In the event of a party’s dissolution by the Supreme Court, these amendments would divvy up its seats among minority parties. This encompasses not only parliamentary seats but also those on provincial and local levels.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said, “They talk about the multi-party problem, but I want to confirm that when the one party is dissolved, there will be five parties that will replace it. That means that it will go from two parties to six parties in the National Assembly.”
Despite Sen’s assertion that the amendments would provide a positive boost for democracy, others have argued that such changes would be undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Mu Sochua said, “This is a constitutional coup, as these seats represent the will of the people that need[s]to be respected and protected.”
Many observers, both nationally and internationally, have identified the amendments’ proposal and passage as the latest in a series of political maneuvers by the CPP to consolidate power and weaken its rivals. Such maneuvers are likely in preparation for the next general elections, which will take place in July 2018.
With the elimination of its main opposition, the CNRP, the CPP could face little competition in the polls. This would almost guarantee that Sen retains his status as prime minister, a post which he has held for over 30 years.
Significant tension has existed between the parties since 2015, when former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy went into self-imposed exile in France. With elections approaching, however, the CPP’s crackdown on the CNRP has escalated greatly in the past year.
Since Sokha’s arrest, roughly half of the CNRP members within Parliament have fled the country out of fear of imprisonment.
Claiming that the CNRP is guilty of plotting to overthrow the government in connection with Sokha, the CPP and two other political parties filed lawsuits in early October and petitioned the Supreme Court to officially disband the CNRP.
Should the Court rule in favor of the petitioners, the new amendments would have major practical implications for the upcoming election. International organizations like Human Rights Watch have said that dissolving the CNRP would “deny Cambodians the fundamental right to elect a government of their choosing.”
Following Parliament’s passage of the amendments, the Constitutional Council must now look over the proposed changes before they are sent to the king for final approval.