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- July 6, 2021 7:29 PM
- February 17, 2021 10:30 AM
Cambodian citizens with dual citizenships will be barred from holding the four highest positions of the country once the draft amendments are formally adopted by the National Assembly
PHNOM PENH--The draft of constitutional amendments to bar those with dual citizenships from holding the top four state positions in the country was endorsed during the cabinet meeting held at the Peace Palace on Oct. 8.
According to government spokesperson Phay Siphan, five articles of the constitution and two articles of the Constitutional Law have been approved for modification. Therefore, some wording of articles 19, 82, 106, 119 and 137 of the constitution as well as articles 3 and 4 of the Constitutional Law will be changed, he said.
Drafting the amendments only took a few days following Prime Minister Hun Sen announcing that he had instructed Minister of Justice Keut Rith to study the possibility of amending the constitution to ban people with dual citizenships from holding Cambodia’s highest offices, which are the positions of president of the Senate, president of the National Assembly, president of the Constitutional Council and prime minister.
In a video posted on his official page on Oct. 8, Hun Sen explained that these amendments had been drafted and were being handled urgently to remove without delay any doubt in people’s minds that he, personally, only holds Cambodian citizenship and no other.
“When the amended constitutional law comes into force, the regime of Hun Sen would end since I was accused of having dual citizenship,” he said. “But if I don’t hold dual citizenship, I still continue to be prime minister. Doing this is to confirm those who have a single nationality and those who don’t, which is for the long-term benefit of Cambodia to prevent foreign interference and show loyalty to the motherland.”
Hun Sen explained that Cambodia could be influenced or dominated by foreign interests if the top four incumbents, and especially the prime minister, are also foreign nationals.
“Foreign interference in this important position would be possible if the leader was holding dual citizenship,” he said. “[People with dual citizenships] have to pay taxes abroad; therefore, if they do not follow foreign orders, their property abroad is confiscated. So, they are under foreign influence.”
On Oct. 6, Prime Minister Hun Sen requested to have constitutional amendment drafted following a news report in the British newspaper The Guardian on Oct. 3 to the effect that he had purchased citizenship in Cyprus.
The Guardian's story was about the Pandora Papers Investigation report that was released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and which contains data on millions of dollars of financial assets hidden by the world’s most wealthy and powerful.
However, The Guardian published a correction later on to the effect that people in the prime minister’s circle, and not the prime minister himself, may have bought foreign citizenships.
Following the announcement of these amendments, Sam Rainsy, former opposition leader now in exile, said on Oct. 6 that there were two categories of Cambodians with dual citizenships. The first category includes those who fled the country due to the war and conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s, and those who feel threatened by the current regime, he said. The second category consists of wealthy and powerful figures in Cambodia who buy foreign citizenships to hide their fortunes or in case they have to flee the country if the current regime is overthrown.
However, Prime Minister Hun Sen stressed that the changes in the constitution only involves the top four leadership positions in the country, and that those who have two nationalities still may serve in government.
“The changes will concern people who were forced to flee abroad and have returned to the kingdom to contribute to the development of the country,” he said. “If we close the gate like this, it seems like we are narrow-minded, while [in fact] our country is different from other countries: We leave a chance for dual nationals to serve as senior ministers, deputy prime ministers, vice presidents of the National Assembly, or vice president of the Senate, and so on.”
Political analyst Seng Sary said that he had suggested to the prime minister to extend this ban to more than four positions to prevent all people with dual citizenships from holding any government office. However, the prime minister suggested otherwise, he said.
“At first, I requested the constitutional amendment to be done to a larger extent,” Sary said. “But, after hearing Samdech’s [Hun Sen] response to my request, I agreed with him. I think that the Cambodian people who [as well] have foreign nationalities are also crucial for Cambodia because they can use their knowledge to help develop the nation.
“I’m happy with Samdech’s rational decision,” Sary added.
Currently, there are only nine people in Cambodia who are legally required to solely have Cambodian nationality: the nine members of the National Election Committee (NEC), according to Hang Puthea, a spokesman for the NEC. But when a member of the NEC steps down, he can obtain a foreign citizenship if he wishes to do so, he added.
During the cabinet meeting on Oct. 8, Hun Sen also said that the allegations made against him to the effect that he had purchased a foreign citizenship had affected both Cambodia and the Republic of Cyprus as it was damaging to the reputation of Cambodia top leaders’ as well as defaming Cyprus.
Despite the Guardian’s correction, he stressed, Cambodia and Cyprus are the victims of this report, which is why he is demanding that the Foreign Minister work with his Cypriot counterpart to work on investigating this issue if needs be.
“Although it has been corrected, we have to confirm this between state and state,” Hun Sen said. “If necessary, [Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation] Prak Sokhon or [Minister of Justice] Keut Rith have to meet with the minister of foreign affairs or the minister of justice of Cyprus through a video conference.”