Cambodia amends law to bar criminals, convicts from politics

Phnom Penh: Cambodia's Parliament has approved an amendment to a law governing political parties with provisions for barring candidates with criminal records and dissolving parties with convicted leaders, a local media report said on Tuesday.The move was approved during a session boycotted by lawmakers belonging to the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, whose leaders were facing trials in several criminal cases, the report said.In early February, Prime Minister Hun Sen -- in power since 1985 -- had announced plans to carry out this legal reform, whose approval comes a year before the country goes to general elections, Efe news reported.In the last elections of 2013, the ruling Cambodian People's Party managed to secure a tight win against the opposition, which alleged the polls were rigged.Before the Parliament vote, rival parties had denounced the changes as being aimed at undermining the pluralist democracy set up after the 1991 peace agreements, and that the government intended to intimidate and crush the opposition.During 2016, the Hun Sen-led administration is said to have stepped up harassment of opponents through the courts, which are subject to meddling and manipulation by the ruling party, according to critics and observers.Last week, main opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was convicted of defamation in the past, resigned from his party (CNRP) from Paris, where he was living in self-exile since 2015 after several lawsuits were filed against him.Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Asia for non-profit Human Rights Watch, remarked the latest amendments culminate the concentration of absolute power in the hands of Hun Sen and his party."The triumph of dictatorship over dream of Paris Peace Accords for rights respecting, multi-party democracy," tweeted Robertson.Meanwhile, National Assembly spokesperson Leng Peng Long argued in favour of the changes, claiming they will help create an appropriate political climate.