An electoral watchdog has warned that proposed amendments to Cambodia's Law on Political Parties are a "clear cause for concern", because of the government's existing track record of targeting the opposition.
Earlier this month, it emerged that Prime Minister Hun Sen was considering alterations to a piece of legislation that governs the establishment and conduct of political parties.
One proposed change would enable the government to dissolve political parties if their leaders have a criminal conviction.
This led Sam Rainsy, who co-founded the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), to resign from his post last week.
He remains in exile to avoid imprisonment on a defamation conviction -- one of many cases that he has said are politically motivated.
Over the past few years, a number of human rights activists, opposition members and senators have been targeted or jailed and in July, a prominent government critic was gunned down. The government denied any involvement in that murder.
The National Assembly's Permanent Committee is planning to review the proposed article changes next week.
On Friday, the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) -- a consortium of NGOs -- urged the government not to proceed with adopting any of the changes, one of which empowers the Ministry of Interior to seek the dissolution of parties with the Supreme Court.
According to the ERA, the proposed amendments would "legally authorize the Ministry of Interior of the government of the ruling party and judiciary, both highly controlled by central authorities and the ruling party, to determine the extent to which political opponents could be deemed unfit to participation in politics".
The group added that the policy would mean political competition could be eliminated if a party or its leaders are accused of "undermining the security of the state".
The amendments, if passed by the National Assembly, could have a serious impact on the fairness of the upcoming commune elections and next year's national elections, the watchdog warned.
The last national elections, which were held in 2013, resulted in a disputed outcome and months-long deadlock after the opposition claimed victory, but won just 55 out of the assembly's 123 seats.
Calls to spokesmen for both the government's Council of Ministers and the opposition CNRP were unsuccessful Friday. -