Cambodian lawmakers on Monday approved an amendment to the kingdom’s constitution barring political leaders from holding dual citizenship, a move seen as targeting the country’s most prominent opposition figure.
Strongman leader Hun Sen had requested the Ministry of Justice to look into the amendment, saying in an October 6 post the change was needed in order “to show loyalty to the nation and avoid foreign interference.”
After the amendment was approved, he added, “the door will be closed forever for dual citizenship people who have attempted to hold top posts, especially the prime minister post.”
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On Monday, the rubber-stamp parliament — with all 111 lawmakers from the premier’s Cambodian People’s Party — voted to pass the amendment after a brief discussion.
All candidates appointed as the prime minister, presidents of the National Assembly, Senate, and the Constitutional Council must hold “only” Cambodian citizenship, the amendment said.
Days after Hun Sen floated the amendment, Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen’s longtime opponent, and a French passport holder, posted on Facebook that it was “a nationality law especially designed” for him.
The opposition figurehead has lived in self-exile in France since 2015 to evade conviction for incitement and defamation — legal troubles that ramped up after his party’s massive gains in 2013 elections.
But following his self-exile and with his allies neutered, the party was dissolved before the 2018 poll, and the ruling CPP swept the vote.
Rainsy has remained a thorn in Hun Sen’s side, his latest missive accusing the leader of holding a Cypriot passport following an erroneous report by the Guardian — which the British paper subsequently corrected.
The lightning-quick move to ban top politicians from holding dual citizenship “raises eyebrows, as elections are quickly approaching”, said Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
Cambodia is expected to hold commune elections to local government positions next year, followed by a national poll in 2023.
“The Constitution of Cambodia cannot — or at least should not -– be amended following a rushed process, prompted by a knee-jerk reaction to accusations made against Cambodian leaders,” Chak told AFP.
A 69-year-old ex-Khmer Rouge cadre, Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders, maintaining a 36-year grip on power with methods that critics say include jailing political opponents and activists.