Fate of Cambodian democracy now rests with global community
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 (CNRP).
The dissolution, which resulted from a decision by the Supreme Court instigated by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), finally destroys the facade of democracy eroded by a regime for which the concept of a separation of powers exists only on paper.
The dissolution of the CNRP, the only genuine electoral rival to the CPP, returns Cambodia to its status before the signature of the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 – 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, guaranteed 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 does not simply violate an international treaty but it also breaks the principles of democracy enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution.
Hun Sen’s fear is understandable: the growing electoral strength of the CNRP seriously threatens his 32-year rule at the general election set for July 29 next year.
Yet Hun Sen has now fallen into his own trap. Having commandeered the levers of executive, judicial and legislative power, and changed laws as he pleases to eliminate dissenting voices, he now faces a constitutional provision that he cannot amend without the required two-thirds majority.
Article 76 of the constitution states 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 from voters has been removed by diktat. The dissolution defies 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 pervious elections of 2013.
The international community, which condemned the CNRP’s dissolution, must not tolerate 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. Consequently it must not recognise lawmakers handed CNRP seats, since these are simply illegitimate 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. – Special to the Phnom Penh Post/Asia News Network
Sam Rainsy is former leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved by the supreme court earlier this month.