CNRP Lawmakers in Siem Reap as Boycott Starts

CNRP lawmakers on Sunday took an oath in front of Angkor Wat swearing they would boycott today’s opening session of the National Assembly and promising “not to betray the conscience of the people.”

With the opposition in Siem Reap, the ruling CPP—which officially won a majority of the Assembly’s 123 seats—said its own 68 lawmakers would attend this morning’s opening parliamentary session in Phnom Penh as well as a swearing-in ceremony at the Royal Palace scheduled for this afternoon.

The scene outside the National Assembly building on Saturday. (Siv Channa)
The scene outside the National Assembly building on Saturday. (Siv Channa)

Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy held two days of talks early last week in a last-ditch effort to break the impasse over the July 28 poll, which both parties are claiming to have won.

But with those talks having stalled on the opposition’s demand for an independent investigation of election-day irregularities, the CNRP took its 55 elected lawmakers—plus eight others it claims should also have won—to Siem Reap City over the weekend and plans to keep them there until Tuesday.

“The fact we are in Siem Reap together means we will not attend. Our presence here speaks for itself,” Mr. Rainsy said Sunday.

“We vowed to be faithful to the people, not to betray the will of the people, to be ready to give [our] life and defend the country’s interests… and to fight against injustice,” he said of the pledge the lawmakers took at the world famous temple.

The CPP’s Prak Sokhon, a secretary of state at the Council of Min­isters, said his party was just as determined to press on with the As­sembly’s opening session today, as well as the business of officially forming the next government by appointing ministers and other senior positions the following day.

“After the meeting we will go to the Royal Palace,” he said of today’s schedule. “We will take an oath [today] and we will organize the structure of the National Assembly and the head of government the next day.”

Whether the Constitution allows the CPP to do all that without the opposition has analysts and lawyers divided. The opposition insists the CPP cannot simply form a government on its own. But Mr. Sokhon said it can—and will.

“The Constitution doesn’t prevent us; it opens the way for us,” he said.

Though Mr. Hun Sen had threatened to give the opposition’s seats to the CPP if it goes through with a boycott, Mr. Sokhon and National Election Committee officials have since denied such an eventuality could happen.

As for Mr. Rainsy, the long-time opposition leader has before vowed to boycott the opening of parliament in the face of dubious election results only to back out at the last minute.

After losing to the CPP in 2008 in similarly marred elections, Mr. Rainsy just as now insisted that his eponymously named party at the time would not take its seats. But after negotiations with the CPP that stretched into the early hours of the morning on the day the Assembly was supposed to open, the opposition relented in return for a promise from the CPP to reform some internal parliamentary rules. That promise has never been carried out.

With all their lawmakers in Siem Reap, Mr. Rainsy insisted Sunday that would not happen again and said any government that came out of the Assembly’s opening session today would have no legal standing.

“We will continue to boycott the National Assembly and delegitimize any CPP government and parliament…because this is totally contrary to the constitutional requirement for pluralism,” Mr. Rainsy said.

Mr. Rainsy said the CNRP would start a petition against the election results.

“We will collect 3.3 million signatures from all over the country…to show that the majority of people reject the election results,” Mr. Rainsy said.

Mr. Rainsy said he was also still holding out hope that King Noro­dom Sihamoni would change his mind and agree to delay the opening of parliament until the two parties worked out their differences at the negotiating table.

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