Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said his ruling party was working to bring into force a law that will prevent dual citizens from holding political leadership positions.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich, Hun Sen said the Cambodian People’s Party would introduce a law to apply a rule that limits certain positions to those holding only Cambodian citizenship. The rule is already written into the Law on the Organization and Functioning of National Election Committee, but would be extended to the presidents of political parties under the plan, he said.
“The president and members of the National Election Committee must hold only Khmer nationality, so [we] must eliminate this for political parties as well,” he said, explaining that he wanted to make sure political leaders could not flee the country to seek intervention from foreign governments.
“It’s very necessary that the president of political party must hold only one nationality.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is currently overseas avoiding charges in the Cambodian courts, holds both Cambodian and French passports.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power in Cambodia for more than 30 years, also announced that he would not offer his signature for an amnesty petition for Sam Rainsy and other Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leaders. Rainsy has already been pardoned twice, but a new warrant was issued for his arrest last month as the political situation in the country worsened once again.
“I announced that if I sign my signature offering amnesty to anyone, I will cut my right hand off. Do you remember? [You said] if there is you, there is no me. You are good at saying that,” he said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told VOA Khmer that requiring party leaders to hold a single nationality would be wrong, since millions of Cambodians left their motherland during years of civil war and the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, and therefore held two nationalities.
“We need a nation that is strong. It’s not a problem for politicians to hold Khmer nationality or with other nationalities coming from all places,” he said. “For the CNRP, we discerned that it should be more open for politicians to have one nationality or two nationalities. We need national unity and reconciliation, building solid human resources for our nation.”
Sovann said that the government should instead focus on tackling illegal immigration, and said the prime minister’s words suggested he was afraid of losing the next elections, scheduled for 2018.
“He referred to some people in the leadership level of the CNRP, and he is worried about the competition of [CNRP] President Sam Rainsy, who could compete to win the elections in 2018,” Sovann said.
The self-exiled Rainsy—who recently enjoyed a holiday in the Philippines, according to photos posted on his Facebook page—is currently out of the country avoiding charges in the Cambodian courts. He is accused of libel for comments he made alleging that Foreign Minister Hor Namhong colluded with the Khmer Rouge regime, as well as a collusion charge concerning the use of fake documents related to border demarcation with Vietnam.
Rainsy had his parliament immunity stripped in a vote in the CPP-dominated parliament on November 16.
Ou Virak, director of the think tank Future Forum, said that the proposed law was clearly targeted at the CNRP, the senior leadership of which contains a number of dual citizens.
“Most of the time he is concerned about politicians holding two nationalities; particularly, the opposition party. Most of those smart people [politicians] hold dual citizenship, since Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Thus, Hun Sen mostly tried to do this in order to put pressure on the opposition party,” he said.
He went further to say that Hun Sen’s announcement regarding an amnesty was a political message indicating that he does not want to see the return of Rainsy.
“I think it’s a strategy, meaning it’s not intimidation,” Virak said. “He is trying to send a message to the CNRP that he didn’t want to permit Sam Rainsy’s return to the country. Thus, it is a way of sending a message to the CNRP to continue choosing new leader of the CNRP. It’s just an effort to cause disputes and create tension in the CNRP.”