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Political Parties Warned of New Laws ahead of Senate Elections

PHNOM PENH: With Senate elections approaching next month, the Cambodian government is warning the few opposition parties left to adhere to Cambodian laws, particularly the new ones in place that threaten them with dissolution if they collaborate with anyone convicted in the Cambodian courts.

On January 12, the Ministry of Interior demanded that all political parties registered to participate in the February 25 Senate elections suspend all activities that violate the Law on Political Parties. While the Ministry did not name any specific parties, it did say that exiled politician Sam Rainsy, who has racked up multiple charges from the Cambodian courts, recently issued a call to three political parties to carry out various activities that break the law.

In fact, Rainsy called on the Candlelight Party (CP), the Nation Power Party (NPP) and the Khmer Will Party (KWP), to work together to secure Senate seats in next month’s election. All Senate seats are currently held by the Prime Minister’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

The Ministry of Interior said, “In this context, the Ministry of Interior would like to warn in advance the political parties that have registered to participate in the 5th Senate Election on February 25, 2024, that they shall stop immediately all activities that violate the Law on Political Parties, especially the new Article 6, which stipulates activities that are prohibited for political parties, under which point 7 clearly states that ‘inciting or conspiring with a person convicted of a felony or a misdemeanour to take any action for the political benefit of his political party’ is one of the activities prohibited to parties.”

The Ministry said that violating the new law could result in a five-year suspension or total dissolution of the party by the courts. The last major opposition party to pose a threat to CPP power, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), was dissolved in 2017, when many of its members fled the country. While the Candlelight Party, one of the only opposition parties left, has not been officially dissolved, it has been prohibited from this year’s and last year’s elections due to “insufficient paperwork” and continues to face the possibility of being dissolved due to accusations that it is related to Sam Rainsy.

On another front, former Prime Minister Hun Sen took to social media to mock former CNRP vice-president Eng Chhai Eang for calling on Cambodians to be brave, while he himself fled the country in 2017. The former CNRP VP posted a message encouraging the remaining political opposition in Cambodia to be brave and not cave to the Ministry of Interior’s warning.

On January 13, former PM Hun Sen posted to his Facebook, “He tried to shout from the United States to the local opposition not to be afraid of the Interior Ministry's warning. If he was so brave, how could he flee the country in 2017, when he had nothing to do with being handcuffed? Why did he run then and encourage bravery now? ”

In 2023, CNRP leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years of house arrest due to statements seen as treasonous. He was one of the few high-level officials of the CNRP left in the country.

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