CNRP Vows to Boycott Vote on Minority Status

CNRP lawmakers on Thursday vowed to boycott Tuesday’s plenary session of the National Assembly in protest of an amendment that would strip the opposition party of its official “minority group” status.

During a meeting on Thursday, the Assembly’s permanent committee scheduled a vote on the proposal for the Tuesday session, which would effectively dismantle a formal framework for political talks between the ruling and opposition parties.

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Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, center, speaks to reporters during a news conference at the CNRP’s ­headquarters in Phnom Penh last year. (Khem Sovannara)

“We cannot attend the session to vote on it,” said senior CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, who was not present at Thursday’s committee meeting. The CPP’s parliamentary majority ensures they can pass the amendment without CNRP approval.

“It’s ridiculous to [amend] it,” Mr. Chhay Eang said. “We agreed and compromised once already.”

Last week, in an interview with CPP-aligned website Fresh News, Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested amending the National Assembly’s internal rules to remove the minority status provision. The official recognition of a minority group was the result of 2014 post-election negotiations, and the move was praised by the CNRP as a positive step toward enshrining a two-party system in a country long governed by one.

CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun, a permanent committee member, blamed the opposition for the proposed change, saying the decision to revoke the status was due to the CNRP’s insistence on negotiations over the release of prisoners whom many consider to be political pawns.

“We are very sad, and we cannot accept [the minority status] if they use this mechanism to request to the executive body, the CPP, to release those being held in prison for committing crimes,” he told reporters after meeting on Thursday.

“I think it will be easier, because we previously didn’t have this mechanism and we were still able to negotiate,” he said.

Relations between the two main parties appeared to be on the mend after acting CNRP President Kem Sokha was granted a royal pardon last month at the request of Mr. Hun Sen, absolving him of a prison sentence in a “prostitution” case widely seen as politically motivated.

After a December 4 meeting between Mr. Sokha, Mr. Hun Senww and Interior Minister Sar Kheng, the opposition party indicated that the release of five current and former officials of rights group Adhoc, who are imprisoned for allegedly bribing the mistress of Mr. Sokha, could be secured before the new year.

However, negotiations have since stalled and the five remain in prison, along with 21 others whom rights group Licadho has identified as political prisoners.

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