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Cambodia: a test of coherence for the global community

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy attends a meeting in Myanmar in 2013.
Former Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy attends a meeting in Myanmar in 2013. AFP

Cambodia: a test of coherence for the global community

By Sam Rainsy
Former leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party

The recent, brutal political repression in Cambodia reached its zenith on November 16 with the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. This dissolution, which results from a decision by the Supreme Court instigated by the Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, destroys the facade of democracy already badly damaged under a regime for which the concept of a separation of powers exists only on paper.

The dissolution of the CNRP, the only opposition party represented in the National Assembly where it was close to parity with the CPP, returns Cambodia to the situation before the signature of the Paris Peace Accords of 1991, to a single-party, communist-style regime led by former members of the Khmer Rouge. The Paris Accords, signed by 18 countries, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, guarantee a process of democratisation in Cambodia leading to a “liberal and pluralist” system of democracy.

The dissolution of the CNRP constitutes a fatal derailing of this democratisation process. It should prompt all the Paris Accord signatories to take steps strong enough to reanimate democracy in Cambodia. The dissolution is not simply the violation of an international treaty but it also breaks the principles of democracy enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution.

Hun Sen’s fear is understandable in that the growing strength of the CNRP seriously threatens his 32-year-old power at the next legislative elections set for July 2018.

Yet Hun Sen is the victim of his own trap. Wielding the levers of executive, judicial and legislative powers, and changing laws as he pleases to eliminate critical voices, he faces a constitutional provision that he cannot amend without the required two-thirds majority.

Article 76 of the Constitution stipulates that the National Assembly must have at least 120 members. This provision renders Hun Sen’s system of government unconstitutional.

The arbitrary dissolution of the CNRP is a collective punishment for its 55 deputies, whose parliamentary mandate based on universal suffrage has been removed by diktat. The dissolution is a negation of the very principle of parliamentary representation upon which all democracies are based.

Hun Sen has rushed to redistribute the 55 CNRP parliamentary seats among small parties that are favourable to him but which failed to obtain any seats in the last legislative elections of 2013.

The international community, which condemned the CNRP’s dissolution, must not follow Hun Sen in this charade. It must demand that the decision to dissolve the CNRP be annulled and the rights of the 55 CNRP deputies be restored. And it must consistently not recognise the “replacements” of those CNRP deputies who are simply usurpers named by Hun Sen.

Pending the restoration of the rights of the 55 CNRP deputies, the National Assembly comprises only the 68 CPP members elected in 2013, which is a breach of Article 76 of the Constitution.

The international community must pressure Hun Sen on the basis of legality of governance to put the democratic process back on track. Everyone knows that for political,economic and financial reasons, no government of Cambodia can survive without international legitimacy based on a minimal respect for democratic principles.

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