Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is stepping up the pressure on his chief political rival as he pushes the National Assembly to approve legislation preventing so-called ‘culprits’ from heading a political party.
“It is necessary that we amend the Law on Political Parties by stipulating clearly that any individual with culprit status shall not be entitled to serve as president or vice-president of any political party,” he said in a floor speech at the National Assembly on Tuesday.
“I request that the National Assembly add this [clause] to strip them off their rights,” he added.
The change would remove Sam Rainsy from the top post of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) because he has been convicted in several court cases brought by members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen.
Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence and are often used by the ruling party to punish dissidents and opposition party officials.
Hun Sen is likely to prevail in the legislature as the ruling party has enough votes to amend the Law on Political Parties because it requires only a bare majority to succeed. This means Hun Sen has to get the votes of 63 lawmakers, and the ruling party holds 68 seats.
Hun Sen is also targeting property held by the CNRP lawmaker.
Opposition party headquarters targeted
Hun Sen told the National Assembly that he wants to confiscate the CNRP’s headquarters as a way of enforcing a judgement against Sam Rainsy in a lawsuit he has yet to win.
“I heard that the [CNRP] headquarters was registered in Sam Rainsy’s name, so let’s have his party’s headquarters sold at auction,” Hun Sen said in the speech. “He walks freely by fleeing his jail sentences. A lot of properties belong [to Sam Rainsy] including his plot[s] of land in Kompong Som province.”
In a $1 million lawsuit, Hun Sen has accused his political rival of defamation for remarks made during a Jan. 14 speech in Paris in which Sam Rainsy accused the Cambodian strongman of giving a $1 million bribe to rising opposition social media star Thy Sovantha to persuade her to switch loyalties.
Thy Sovantha had made a name for herself by attacking Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) through social media, but she abruptly changed her tune this year and began attacking Kem Sokha as the government engaged in a wide-ranging probe into a purported affair between him and a young hairdresser.
In December, Kem Sokha and provincial CNRP official Seang Chet were granted royal pardons in the case against the CNRP leader, but five other people accused in connection with the case remain in prison.
In his Jan. 14 remarks, Sam Rainsy, who was joined by Kem Sokha via Skype, talked about what he called the judicial double standard faced by the CNRP’s members and human rights workers who are jailed on charges over what amounted to a few hundred dollars.
Leaked phone messages allegedly show the prime minister’s second son Hun Manith – head of the military’s intelligence unit – conspiring with Thy Sovantha to discredit Kem Sokha, according to local media reports.
While Thy Sovantha filed a separate defamation lawsuit against Sam Rainsy that seeks $250,000 in damages, Sam Rainsy has been down this legal road before, as there have been at least six lawsuits filed against him by government or CPP figures.
In September he was found guilty of defamation for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase the appearance of support.
And in December, he was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia for posting what authorities said was a fake government pledge to dissolve the Southeast Asian country’s border with Vietnam.
Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest for a defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.
In October, Hun Sen ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to “use all ways and means” to prevent the opposition leader from returning to the country, as Sam Rainsy has pledged to do before the country’s elections.
Cambodia’s local elections are set for June 2017 and national elections are scheduled for 2018. In the disputed 2013 elections, the CPP lost 22 seats in its worst showing since 1998.
Full story: rfa.org
Reported by Vuthy Tha, Sonorng Khe and Chandara Yang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.
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