Heng Samrin, first vice president of the National Assembly, on Monday called the continuing boycott of the Assembly by Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers and some Funcinpec lawmakers a “crisis” that threatens Cambodia’s legislature.
“Funcinpec should get its lawmakers to come back and join the [Assembly] meetings, or there will be a parliamentary crisis,” the top CPP Assembly official told reporters.
Twenty-four Funcinpec parliamentarians and all 15 Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers were absent from the Assembly Friday and Monday, forcing the cancellation of both sessions for lack of a quorum.
At least 86 of the 122 members must attend for the Assembly to meet. Only 75 appeared on Monday. Assembly Deputy Secretary General Chan Ven said 15 of the absent Funcinpec lawmakers hadn’t given a reason, while the rest were ill or abroad or had another excuse.
The absentees say they are protesting Thursday’s vote that rejected the candidacy of RCAF Deputy Commander-in-Chief Khan Savoeun for co-minister of interior.
At least 15 Funcinpec lawmakers signed a boycott letter Friday, but it may not have been sent to party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is also the Assembly’s president, Funcinpec officials said.
The boycott has stalled the legislature at a crucial time—next on its agenda is reform of the National Election Committee, which must be passed by the end of October to affect next year’s legislative elections, tentatively scheduled for July 27. That means clearing the Council of Ministers, the Senate and other approving bodies as well as the Assembly.
Heng Samrin said the Sam Rainsy Party boycott isn’t a concern, but the Funcinpec walkout rankles him. He appealed to Funcinpec—the CPP’s partner in the coalition government—to “better mobilize all of its lawmakers in order to make a quorum.”
Asked whether the CPP would support Khan Savoeun in a second vote, Heng Samrin declined to answer.
In Thursday’s vote, Khan Savoeun—a former Funcinpec resistance commander nominated by his party to replace co-Minister You Hockry—received just over half the votes he needed. Some 49 lawmakers abstained in the secret ballot.
Funcinpec lawmaker Khek Vandy, one of the absentees on Friday and Monday, said on Monday that the CPP intentionally blocked Khan Savoeun’s nomination by abstaining from the vote.
But Heng Samrin called that accusation unfair. “It isn’t right that people put all the blame on the CPP for [the failure of] Khan Savoeun’s bid,” he said.
“Prince Norodom Ranariddh made agreements with the government and the prime minister to support his candidate, but the vote is up to each lawmaker to decide…. We can’t force them,” he said.
Another Funcinpec lawmaker, Ok Socheat, accused the CPP of breaking the coalition agreement. “They can’t say that by abstaining from voting they are not poking their hand into the internal affairs of their partner,” he said.
“They abstained—that means they don’t respect the decision of [Funcinpec] in supporting the candidacy of Khan Savoeun,” he said.
Ok Socheat added that the boycott will continue until the CPP changes its stance. “We demand the CPP vote for Khan Savoeun, or Funcinpec lawmakers will keep boycotting the sessions.”
He claimed there were 18 Funcinpec lawmakers joining the protest but would not name them.
Ok Socheat said he would meet Monday evening with lawmakers Nan Sy, Khek Vandy, Huot Peng Ly, Ismael Yosof and Khim Chamroeun to decide what action to take.
He said they planned to ask party Deputy Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay to meet with CPP officials and discuss the matter.
In a collective statement, Sam Rainsy Party members of parliament warned that the boycott could have dire results.
“If a solution to the current crisis [can] not be rapidly found, the situation [will] result in a paralysis of crucial State institutions, which would require a proclamation by the King putting the country in a state of emergency, according to Article 22 of the Constitution,” the opposition lawmakers stated.