After Attack on Lawmakers, Assembly to Reconvene

Four days after two opposition lawmakers were beaten while leaving the National Assembly, parliament is set to convene again this morning to pass changes to its internal rules and potentially decide on the future of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha.

Almost half of the CNRP’s delegation of 55 lawmakers are currently abroad, with many in Thailand to support Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea, who were hospitalized after being repeatedly stomped on and kicked in the face during a CPP protest on Monday.

Yet Keo Phirum, one of about 30 CNRP lawmakers still in the country, said the reduced delegation would be at the Assembly to pass the new internal rules and changes to the commune election law, despite recent events.

“We will be going tomorrow,” Mr. Phirum said. “Even if most of us are overseas, the rest of us will still be going to support the changes.”

Mr. Chamroeun and Mr. Saphea were dragged from their SUVs and repeatedly beaten by men attending a protest to demand that Mr. Sokha resign his position as the Assembly’s vice president.

The protest was promoted in a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen the night before and was organized by a CPP-aligned youth group, but the CPP has denied claims from civil society and the CNRP that Mr. Hun Sen was behind the assaults.

The beatings were part of a seemingly concerted effort to intimidate Mr. Sokha, with protesters pelting his home with rocks for six hours on Monday afternoon as his wife sat inside and police ignored calls to intervene.

Deputy military commander Kun Kim, a close confidante of Mr. Hun Sen, also issued a petition on army letterhead calling for Mr. Sokha’s removal on Monday as soldiers under his command rallied with signs making the same demand.

Mr. Sokha’s chief of cabinet, Muth Chantha, said the CNRP vice president, who did not attend the Assembly on Monday due to fears for his safety, was unlikely to return from Thailand in time for today’s session.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said there was a chance that the petition calling for Mr. Sokha’s removal, which was handed to his fellow CPP lawmaker Lork Kheng by Monday’s protesters, could come to a head today.

“When there is the signature of 50 percent plus one [of the 123 lawmakers] and this is handed to the National Assembly president, the president has to call together the standing committee,” Mr. Eysan said.

“When there is more than 50 percent plus one of the standing committee members voting for removal, his position can be removed,” he added, declining to say whether that might happen today.

“Let’s wait and see the result,” he said.

However, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said that the CPP could not remove Mr. Sokha without dissolving the parliament itself, as the Constitution only allows for the replacement of the Assembly president and two vice presidents if they resign or die.

“There is nothing about removing the commission heads, president or vice presidents in the internal rules of the National Assembly or in the Constitution,” Mr. Chhay Eang said.

“There is nothing about withdrawing confidence or removing them,” he reiterated. “If such a law exists, I do not know what it is.”

National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun, who is also a CPP lawmaker, said Mr. Chhay Eang was correct that no such provisions existed, but said that Mr. Sokha could still be booted from his position.

“In fact, we do not have a law stating that lawmakers can remove the leaders of the National Assembly, but the implementation is that when it comes in one way, it also goes out that way,” Mr. Vun said.

“The lawmakers have voted in the president and vice president and the other leaders of the National Assembly, and so because they have the right to select, they also have the right to remove their confidence.”

CNRP lawmaker Kimsour Phirith said he hoped Mr. Hun Sen’s Wednesday night speech condemning Monday’s assaults meant that the violence would not be repeated today.

“We are still worrying about our safety, but we have to join the National Assembly session, and we are waiting to see what happens this time,” Mr. Phirith said.

“The prime minister has appealed to authorities to bring the perpetrators to court, so I hope nothing will happen. These proposed laws on the commune elections and National Assembly internal rules are very important.”

Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the new internal rules included a provision dictating that the National Assembly is not valid until 123 of its lawmakers are sworn into office.

There was debate over the legitimacy of an Assembly with fewer than 123 sworn-in members when the CNRP refused to take its 55 seats after the 2013 election.

“It now says if a party rejects their seats, then the Assembly is not yet legitimate,” Mr. Panha said. “However, a procedure in the national election law says the name of the boycotting party will be deleted and their seats will be redistributed to the other parties.”

“So it will only be for the short time that a party rejects its seats that the National Assembly will not be able to form. Whether that is negative or positive is not clear to me, but at least they clarified it,” he said.

Another new provision would require time to be set aside for lawmakers to question government ministers in the parliament, with the ministers required to answer.

Mr. Panha said that similar provisions exist in the present rules, but have been routinely ignored.

“It’s not too different to before, but they just clarified that the ministers must respect the questions from the National Assembly members and must answer the questions during Q&A sessions,” Mr. Panha said.

“In the past, the prime minister has just talked for five hours. They allowed ‘A,’ but there was no ‘Q,’ he said. “There must be Q&A. Not only A. There must be Q. Maybe this rule will change the attitude of the ministers, and they will respect the questions.”

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