Cambodia’s one-party National Assembly on Thursday debated amending the law on political parties to allow some 118 former Cambodia National Rescue Party politicians to return to political life following a ban imposed by the Supreme Court last year.
In a statement posted to the parliament’s website, it said the move was intended to “promote the spirit of national reconciliation as well as strengthening liberal democracy”.
The 118 former CNRP politicians were barred from engaging in political activities in a decision in November 2017 that also saw the party dissolved. Its president, Kem Sokha, was earlier arrested and charged with treason for campaigning against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in the years leading up to the 2013 election.
The CPP went on to secure a landslide victory in national elections in July, drawing heavy criticism from the international community.
On Wednesday, Hun Sen said that under the changed law any former CNRP politician who wanted to resume their political careers could submit personal requests directly to his office for consideration.
“When the law takes effect, I, the prime minister, will be ready to accept each individual’s request independently,” he said.
Sam Rainsy, Sokha’s predecessor to CNRP presidency, on Thursday called on the party’s former lawmakers not to “fall into Hun Sen’s trap and involuntarily help him cling to power”.
However, several former CNRP officials said they were preparing to submit their requests to Hun Sen.
Kong Korm, a former senior CNRP adviser, said he was looking forward to resuming his political work.
“I have been waiting for this time to come. I want to keep democracy alive so I am happy and excited for this political law amendment,” he said.
Charles Santiago, chairman of Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement that the move was a “minor concession aimed at reducing international pressure” in the face of impending E.U. trade restrictions over the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia.
“It is crucial that the international community continues to push for other major changes, including the immediate and unconditional release of CNRP leader Kem Sokha, the lifting of the ban on [the] CNRP, the reinstatement of all CNRP members, as well as a free and fair election environment. Until these calls are fulfilled, the amendment today will have little real impact in the long run,” he said.