Kem Sokha Ousted as National Assembly VP

Ruling party lawmakers re­moved deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha as first vice president of the National Assembly on Fri­day in a vote that was boycotted by the CNRP, which was joined by legal experts in calling the ouster unconstitutional.

The morning session came four days after two CNRP lawmakers were attacked outside the Assem­bly during a protest led by a CPP-affiliated youth group de­manding that Mr. Sokha resign his parliamentary post.

Journalists gather around a television in the National Assembly's media room as CPP lawmakers vote to remove deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha as first vice president of the Assembly on Friday morning. (Reuters)
Journalists gather around a television in the National Assembly’s media room as CPP lawmakers vote to remove deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha as first vice president of the Assembly on Friday morning. (Reuters)


Before the vote, Assembly Presi­dent Heng Samrin gave instructions to the parliamentarians on how they should vote.

“Please cast ‘Yes,’ not ‘No,’ be­cause sometimes those casting votes get confused and think the word ‘No’ refers to removal,” he said.

All 68 CPP lawmakers then dutifully cast their “Yes” ballots, officially removing Mr. Sokha from his leadership position.

“In accordance with votes cast to remove His Excellency Kem So­kha from the first vice presidency of the National Assembly, I an­nounce solemnly that His Ex­cel­len­cy Kem Sokha is successfully re­moved from his position as first vice president of the National As­sembly,” Mr. Samrin an­nounced at about 9 a.m.

Mr. Sokha’s dismissal is just the latest political blow inflicted by the CPP on the opposition party since the mid-2014 detente that ended the CNRP’s yearlong boycott of the National Assembly.

In August, opposition senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested and charged with forgery and incitement over a video he posted on­line showing a fake border treaty. Last Sunday, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned CNRP president Sam Rainsy that he could face prosecution in the same case—and that if convicted, he would not be pardoned.

Then, on Monday, during a protest against Mr. Sokha outside the Assembly, two opposition lawmakers—Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea—were pulled out of their SUVs and repeatedly stomped on and kicked in the face.

Civil society groups were quick to blame the CPP for the attacks. Prime Minister Hun Sen had personally promoted the protest against Mr. Sokha in a speech the night before, but condemned the violence during a televised ad­dress on Wednesday night.

During Friday’s parliamentary session, lawmakers were scheduled to debate and pass changes to the internal rules of the Nation­al Assembly and a new commune election law.

Just before the session convened, however, the CPP-controlled permanent committee met and put a vote to remove Mr. Sokha at the top of the day’s agenda, leading the CNRP to boycott the session.

After the vote, speaking from the National Assembly floor, sen­ior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the Assembly was obliged to reconsider Mr. Sokha’s position because 63 CPP lawmakers—ostensibly acting on the de­mands of their constituents—had signed a petition asking for it.

Mr. Yeap accused Mr. Sokha of being unrelenting in his efforts to undermine the political detente struck last year.

“His Excellency Kem Sokha al­ways wants to damage the deal,” Mr. Yeap said. “Whenever he goes somewhere he creates cha­os, which affects the peace, and that’s prohibited by the 1993 Constitution.”

“He’s always saying something that causes disputes between the two parties,” he added. “We have documents to prove that whenever His Excellency Kem Sokha… goes somewhere, he slanders the CPP’s leaders.”

The CNRP, however, said it was the CPP that had violated the Constitution with the morning’s maneuver. In a statement, the party said the removal of Mr. So­kha involved “serious irregularities,” including “violation of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, as the Constitution does not state any provisions relating to the authorization to issue a blaming motion or to remove the position or function of the president or deputy president of the National Assembly.”

The Constitution only lays out provisions for the replacement of the Assembly president or vice president—by a majority vote of the Assembly—in case of a resignation or death.

Prime Minister Hun Sen attends Friday's National Assembly session. (Reuters)
Prime Minister Hun Sen attends Friday’s National Assembly session. (Reuters)

The CNRP said the morning’s vote also broke the political agreement it struck with the CPP in July last year, which included a guarantee of several key legislative positions for the opposition, including first vice president of the Assembly.

Prominent attorney and civil rights advocate Sok Sam Oeun agreed that Mr. Sokha’s removal appeared unconstitutional.

“If we look at the Constitution, I don’t see any provision relating to the removal of the [National As­sembly] vice president,” he said.

“It must be consistent with the Con­stitution. What do you think if it is not consistent with the Con­stitution? It’s unconstitutional, right?”

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said there were no rules or laws to justify the CPP’s move to force Mr. Sokha from his post.

“It is not legal. Not legal means no law, no procedure, no nothing,” he said.

“In the rule-of-law society there must be laws, but in Cambodia there is no law,” he added. “In some countries they say if there is no law, it is illegal. But in Cam­bo­dia, if there is no law, they still practice.”

On Thursday, the CPP had hinted that Mr. Sokha’s position was on the line and said he could be voted out by ruling party lawmakers because it was their ma­jority that secured his ascension to the vice presidency in the first place.

But Mr. Panha rejected the ar­gument, saying that the ruling party appeared to be making up the rules as it went along. He said Mr. Sokha’s removal opened the way for the ruling party to replace him with one of its own members —since the position is not prom­ised to any party by law—or pressure the CNRP into nominating a more pliable alternative.

“That’s the way they do with Funcinpec; they say ‘I want that guy,’” he said, referring to the CPP’s erstwhile coalition partner, whose role in the arrangement was gradually ground down to nearly nothing. With its parliamentary majority, he said, “the CPP is the one who will make the decision.”

Stepping away from the Assem­bly’s afternoon session to speak with reporters, CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun insisted that the vote was completely legal.

“The parliament does everything in accordance with the law,” said Mr. Vun, who is also the As­sem­bly’s spokesman. “In parliament, there are three key laws we use. First, there is the Consti­tu­tion. Second, there are the internal rules. Third, there is the law on the status of parliamentarians.”

With Mr. Sokha out, Mr. Vun said the ruling party would give the CNRP the chance to nominate another of its lawmakers for first vice president, since the position had been promised to the op­position party in last year’s deal.

CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said the opposition would not be nominating anyone else, at least until the two parties had a chance to meet and discuss yesterday’s vote.

“Now they removed him based on their will, so we cannot keep playing and playing in a political game without clear rules,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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