The National Assembly’s CPP-dominated permanent committee on Wednesday approved new fines for absentee lawmakers and rejected the opposition’s list of proposed amendments to a trio of contentious laws on judicial independence, claiming the list was too long.
Starting today, lawmakers will be docked pay for missing any Assembly meeting without prior approval from CPP Assembly President Heng Samrin, from meetings of sector-specific parliamentary committees to full plenary sessions.
They may also be docked pay—or be kicked out of meetings—for disparaging the king, Mr. Samrin or each other.
The new rules appear to be aimed squarely at punishing the CNRP, which has skipped plenary sessions for the past several months in protest over the arrests of two CNRP lawmakers with legal immunity—in breach, they say, of the Constitution.
But National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long denied any political bias.
“This directive will not be applied to lawmakers from any specific party. It is for lawmakers from any party who do wrong. Whatever party the lawmaker is from, we will enforce it,” he said.
Assembly rules already prohibit unaccounted-for absences, but fail to attach any penalties. Nevertheless, the permanent committee stripped opposition lawmakers of their salaries—and positions—during a parliamentary boycott in 2013.
CPP lawmaker and spokesman Chheang Vun, a member of the committee, said parliament needed the new rules to make sure punishment is meted out consistently.
“If one party boycotts while another party works, what kind of democracy can there be in Cambodia?” he asked. “We want all lawmakers with all political agendas to sit and work in the Assembly.”
CNRP lawmaker and fellow committee member Yem Ponhearith described the new rules as “political behavior” and said the opposition would not be swayed. He said the party would continue to decide whether to attend each meeting as it comes, “depending on the agenda.”
“We are not scared by the directive and we will continue our advocacy,” he said.
Koul Panha, who heads the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, agreed that the rules were being aimed at the CNRP.
“Many countries, they use the right to boycott,” he said. “That’s the way they show they are unhappy…. It’s their right.”
Mr. Panha also said penalizing lawmakers who, for example, “mock” the Assembly or its president also went too far and would stifle fair debate.
“The king, of course; it’s in the Constitution. But the president of the National Assembly, he is the ruling party. Why can’t the people criticize him?” he said. “It is clear they want to scare them, to not let the members of parliament criticize the ruling party.”
According to the new rules, lawmakers must have a “reasonable” explanation for missing a meeting, approved by the Assembly president, or—after failing to heed one warning—have a day’s worth of pay docked for every absence.
The rules also lay out a list of bad meeting behavior. Lawmakers who “cause chaos” or insult each other will lose half their monthly salary and have their transgressions publicly posted in their constituencies.
Repeat offenders, along with those who incite violence or insult the king or Assembly president, can be kicked out of a meeting by a vote or show of hands at the Assembly at the request of the president. They will also have half their monthly salary docked for two months and be barred from the next 15 consecutive meetings.
Separately, the permanent committee on Wednesday also refused to send a set of proposed amendments to the country’s so-called “fundamental laws” on the judiciary to the floor of the National Assembly for a debate and possible vote.
The Assembly, amid a previous opposition boycott, passed the three laws in 2014, codifying the government’s relationship with the courts. The CNRP says they merely entrench the CPP’s stranglehold on a judicial system already riddled with corruption.
Mr. Peng Long, the Assembly spokesman, said the proposed amendments were so extensive that they amounted to a new draft law and therefore had to be sent first to the Supreme Council of Magistracy for review.
Mr. Ponhearith, the CNRP lawmaker, disagreed.
“The law should be sent to the plenary session of the National Assembly and the plenary session should decide,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)