The 56 members of the 62-seat Senate in attendance unanimously approved the draft of the amendment, paving the way for some of the 118 banned politicians from the Supreme-Court dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to return to politics.
The former CNRP senior officials were handed five-year bans from politics and had their party dissolved by the Supreme Court in November last year after its president Kem Sokha was arrested on treason charges for his role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government with the support of foreign powers.
When the amendment takes effect, it will allow some officials deemed to have respected the initial verdict by not participating in politics to regain their political rights.
Those rights will be restored only if the prime minister, at the recommendation of the Ministry of Interior, requests that the King pardon individuals deemed.
“Some individuals who have respected the law and not carried out any activities against the Supreme Court verdict will [have their rights] restored because they are patriots."
“They want to participate in helping the nation and society by not doing anything affecting society or national security,” Senate spokesman Mam Bun Neang said after the vote.
He said some individuals who were banned but ignored the verdict by continuing to carry out political activities will not have their rights restored.
“This law is made for patriots who love the nation and want to serve it. It is the purpose of the current leader [Hun Sen] to have national unification and national reconciliation, and also to strengthen democracy in Cambodia,” he said.
Bun Neang said the amendment was made in accordance with Article 8 of the Constitution and will be sent to the CC for approval this week.
According to a Senate press release signed by Senate secretary-general Um Sarith, the draft law was made to promote the spirit of national unification, as well as strengthen multi-party democracy in Cambodia.
The press release stressed it would only “restore politicians … who have not carried out any activity against the interests of the Kingdom of Cambodia and not affected the principle of the rule of law and national security”.
In Tuesday’s session, lawmaker Cheam Yeap dismissed allegations that the law amendment was made as a result of international pressure on the Cambodian government.
“We would like to dismiss the allegation. This amendment is to strengthen national reconciliation and the rule of law and democracy in Cambodia,” he stressed.
However, political science analyst Em Sovannara said the amendment could well be linked to international demands that Cambodia respect rights, freedom and democracy.
He said the amendment could risk pulling apart the opposition, many of whom reject the restoration of rights for some former CNRP leaders as a government ploy to divide the opposition.
“It responds to the international demand from the EU and the US that wants Cambodia to have rights, freedom and space for politicians and democracy."
“But it may cause division in the opposition [camps] between the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party [Kem Sokha’s faction]. This is a mechanism in which one arrow can shoot two birds,” he said.
On December 23, CNRP “acting president” Sam Rainsy called on all Cambodian opposition supporters to stop attacking each other.
He said all supporters of the former opposition party must participate in promoting his new trademark unity slogan - “Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are only one person”.
In a Facebook post, Rainsy said: “I am convinced and sure that Kem Sokha and I, Sam Rainsy, are faithful political partners for the Khmer nation.
“I would also like to confirm the stance that Kem Sokha and I, Sam Rainsy, are only one person, not impacted by being threatened, and cannot be divided."
“Therefore, please all leaders and supporters of the CNRP, after the new year stop misunderstanding, insulting, and stop all forms of attack.”
Early last week, Rainsy claimed that former CNRP members must not allow Hun Sen to avoid implementing a five-point solution to the political crisis by accepting a pardon.
He claimed that only the international community had enough sway to force the prime minister to accept such a solution.
The five-point solution includes the release of Kem Sokha, currently at home on bail, the dropping of all charges against CNRP leaders and activists, allowing the CNRP to resume its operations, giving back CNRP positions voted for by citizens, and holding a new election with CNRP participation.
Former CNRP senior officials Mao Monivann, TokVanchan, Kong Sophea, Mu Sochua and Ou Chanrith could not be reached for comment on this story.