Law change ‘welcomed’ by Kem Sokha as it goes for review

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Heng Samrin, President of National Assembly. Heng Chivoan

The Permanent Committee of the National Assembly met on Wednesday to discuss the proposed amendment to Article 45 of the Law on Political Parties – something “supported and welcomed” by former opposition leader Kem Sokha – and put it up for review by its parliamentary commission.

The amendment would allow individual politicians who have been barred by the Supreme Court to re-enter politics before the term of their ban is complete, provided they receive a pardon from King Norodom Sihamoni through a request made by the prime minister.

Speaking through his lawyers on Wednesday, Sokha, the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who is currently on bail awaiting trial on treason charges, “supported and welcomed” the proposed government amendment, which could allow banned CNRP politicians to resume their political careers.

Pheng Heng, one of Sokha’s defence lawyers, told The Post on Wednesday that his client was aware of the development and considered it a “solution promoting freedom and human rights”.

“[Sokha] supports and welcomes [the proposed law change]. As per his vision and stance, he will always welcome all solutions promoting freedom, human rights and multi-party democracy,” Heng said.

The amendment was proposed by 87 CPP lawmakers, represented by Cheam Yeap and Pen Panha, on Monday.

Around 30 minutes after the meeting ended on Wednesday, 13 members of the Permanent Committee, led by the president of the National Assembly, Heng Samrin, approved the proposal and forwarded it to the expert committee for review, before its possible adoption at the next plenary session.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, ruling party lawmaker Chheang Vun said the amendment aimed to fill “gaps” in the law and encourage banned politicians who have “corrected” themselves by obeying the law.

“After Supreme Court convictions, we need to encourage the convicted who have corrected themselves by respecting the law."

“If they have obeyed the law, we have to encourage them. If we do not encourage them, it means that those banned people will find no incentive to correct themselves. They have put in the effort to correct themselves, as they want something in return and hope to benefit by having their ban lifted,” he said.

Vun said the amendment would not allow a dissolved party to reform under the same name, and only individuals would be affected by the change to the law.

He rejected the notion that the move came as a result of international pressure.

“Cambodia is led by Samdech Techo Hun Sen. We have never positioned ourselves because of foreign pressure. We usually only focus on our own sovereignty and independence. All Cambodians should adhere perfectly to this vision,” he said.

Vun said that after the new law takes effect, the Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Justice would be able to request the Prime Minister to ask for a pardon from the King. “[The ministries] will review all cases as to who is eligible for a pardon,” he said.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Tuesday hinted that the majority of the 118 former senior CNRP officials banned by the Supreme Court from politics for five years might be able to resume their careers, while only a small number would not.

“Among the 118 [CNRP] politicians [barred from politics], only a few have not respected the Supreme Court’s decision, while most of them have. In fact, the majority has respected the court’s decision and we need to accept this truth,” Sar Kheng said.