CNRP Wants Presidency of Assembly Before Taking Seats

With the ruling CPP having voted in its National Assembly leadership and government ministers on Tuesday, officials from the CNRP said opposition lawmakers would not take their seats in parliament unless the party is guaranteed control over the National Assembly.

“I think that the two-day meeting was the last chance for the CPP to accept our proposal, but they ignored it. I heard that [now they are asking] us to swear in as members before the new talks can begin, but that is not acceptable,” CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said Tuesday, adding that he doubted the two parties would return to the negotiating table.

“The party will not accept to take part unless an agreement… [is] made between the top leaders, but so far [there is] no agreement, so I don’t think [we will join the Assembly],” he said.

“Our seats are our seats. We don’t need to hurry to swear in and to legitimize the CPP government. We still have the right and the time to protest, because this is important to the country.”

“We ought to stay strong and firm to bring about change in the country, not just worry about our seats,” he added.

Speaking to reporters following Tuesday’s vote for positions in the National Assembly, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the CNRP’s demands that it be given the presidency of the National Assembly were unprecedented in parliamentary systems.

“The negotiations were stalled but it was impossible because has anyone seen the minority voice take the position of president of the National Assembly anywhere in the world?” Mr. Hun Sen asked.

“[The CNRP’s] demand was to be president of the National Assembly…. We offered the positions of chairman of four committees and vice chairman of five committees,” he said, adding that calls by the CNRP for an independent investigation into election irregularities had been taken off the table by the second day of talks.

“We still maintain our stance and our offer, but it’s a bit difficult. I will offer [National Assembly committee leadership positions], but it has to be undertaken by vote,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

Despite Mr. Hun Sen’s claim to the opposite, the minor party taking the presidency of the National Assembly has precedent.

In July 2004, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, whose Funcinpec party was handily defeated by the CPP at the polls more than eleven months earlier, was given the position as president of the National Assembly after agreeing to join in a coalition government with Mr. Hun Sen.

CNRP parliamentarian Tioulong Saumura, the wife of CNRP President Sam Rainsy, declined to say when opposition lawmakers would take their seats in the Assembly but she said that they would eventually be filled.

“These seats are a result of votes that have been expressed by the people—Cambodian voters—and they have voted for CNRP candidates. So these seats are seats that should be occupied by CNRP staff,” she said.

Others also signaled that the boycott of parliament would not be permanent.

CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith said that with the CPP pushing ahead in forming a government, the CNRP had “changed its stance” though he declined to elaborate on what the new stance was.

“They [the CPP] don’t stop, that is why we need to change our stance. If there is no meeting [of the National Assembly], we would postpone and negotiate. But today, [the CPP] had meetings and pushed ahead,” he said.

Mr. Rainsy announced on his Facebook page Tuesday that the CNRP will hold a press conference 9 a.m. this morning “to denounce the constitutional coup being perpetrated by the CPP.”

Independent political analyst Kem Ley said the chances of further talks between the two parties were slim, though he said he believed that CNRP lawmakers would soon take their Assembly seats and continue to fight for reform inside parliament and, at the same time, continue to exert public pressure on the CPP through mass protests.

“They will go into the National Assembly and have unity pushing for reform,” Mr. Ley said.

(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey, Khuon Narim and Phorn Bopha)

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