Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Senate OKs Election Law Amendments, Legislation Moves Forward

Senators raise their hands in support of draft election law amendments on June 29, 2023. (Senate’s Facebook)
Senators raise their hands in support of draft election law amendments on June 29, 2023. (Senate’s Facebook)

The Cambodian Senate unanimously voted in favor of electoral law amendments on Thursday, completing another step in the rapid progress of the proposed legislation. 

The Senate met on Thursday and voted to pass amendments that would require prospective election candidates to prove they voted in prior elections to be eligible to run for public office.

Fifty-nine Senate members voted yes for the amendments, with Senate spokesperson Mam Bun Neang saying the draft will now be sent back to the National Assembly, which will decide to either forward the drafts to the Constitutional Council or to the King for promulgation.

The Senate is composed of 62 members: 58 Cambodian People’s Party senators, two members selected by the National Assembly and two appointees from the king. One of the king’s appointees voted with 58 CPP senators on Thursday. 

Last week, the National Assembly also unanimously voted to pass the draft amendments. All 125 seats of the lower house are held by the ruling CPP. Hun Sen wanted the amendments implemented before the start of the election campaign period, which starts on Saturday.

Once the amendments come into effect, candidates for a National Assembly or Senate seat will have to prove they voted in the two previous elections, whereas people seeking office in a commune, provincial or district council must have voted in the most recent election.

The Senate’s Bun Neang supported the legislation and dismissed any criticism from the public, adding that there were politicians who were attempting to instigate voters to boycott the election or spoil their ballots.

“These amendments to laws really serve the interest of our nation so that we can choose politicians who are honest with their own citizens, and second to fulfill their obligation as good citizens,” he said. 

Earlier this month, Hun Sen ordered Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Justice Minister Keut Rith to draft amendments that would make it mandatory for candidates to have voted in prior elections for their nominations to be eligible. The move was likely spurred by calls for a boycott from some voters and supporters of the Candlelight Party, which was disqualified from the July election.

After the disbanding of the Cambodia National Rescue Party in 2017, party supporters started the “clean finger campaign” in 2018 to get opposition voters to boycott the national election. That year, the number of invalid or spoiled ballots was second only to the CPP’s vote tally.

More than 20 civil society groups released a statement on Monday asking the government, legislature and Constitutional Council to postpone passage of the amendments, which they said will affect the rights of voters and those who wish to stand for office.