CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun on Monday rejected concerns expressed by the U.S. over the expulsion of 27 opposition lawmakers from the National Assembly, and proceeded to underline his stance by personally ejecting an opposition party member who had attended a press conference at Parliament.
Responding directly to a statement from the U.S. State Department on Saturday criticizing the decision by the CPP-controlled National Assembly to strip 27 opposition lawmakers of their parliamentary membership, Mr. Vun said that the CPP was merely upholding the rule of law.
“The National Assembly did not strip their [opposition lawmakers] membership, the five laws did,” Mr. Vun said at a press conference held at the National Assembly.
The five laws responsible for stripping the opposition of their parliamentary seats included, Mr. Vun maintained, articles in the Constitution, the Law on Election of Members of the National Assembly and internal parliamentary rules that bar lawmakers from membership in two parties simultaneously.
“If they had not joined the Cambodia National Rescue Party [CNRP] and made the announcement in the assembly, this would not have happened,” he said. “Now the others look at us and say what we are doing is not good.”
In Saturday’s statement, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that stripping the salaries and parliamentary status of opposition party legislators “deprives the Cambodian people of their voice and hurts the democratic process in Cambodia.”
Mr. Vun said that he had asked the U.S. Embassy on Monday to pass on a message to the State Department in Washington that it should not tell Cambodia’s legislators what to do unless it is willing to allow Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry to tell the U.S. Congress what it should do.
“We took an oath to protect democracy, and they [the U.S.] tell Cambodia to do this and do that. We cannot accept it. If we tell [the U.S. Congress] what to do, will they do it? If not, don’t tell our National Assembly what to do,” he said.
“They [the U.S.] have done a lot of things wrong, why don’t they solve their problems first? If there was not a coup in 1970 supported by the U.S., we would not be suffering now,” he added.
Mr. Vun also said Monday that the National Assembly would not be following Ms. Psaki’s advice of reinstating the opposition members as lawmakers.
“We…request that the U.S. Embassy take my message to the State Department that we cannot accept what they have said because the National Assembly represents the Cambodian people,” he said.
“Please rethink this. I don’t want them [the U.S. State Department] to have colonial ideas anymore, telling other countries to do things…. They have some good advice, but a lot of bad advice also,” Mr. Vun added.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said in an email Monday that the U.S. is “here to help promote a democratic process in Cambodia.”
“We are really concerned about the spirit of democracy in Cambodia and making sure that all people in Cambodia have representation in the political process,” he added.
Lawmakers representing the SRP and Human Rights Party (HRP) were informed Wednesday that they would no longer be allowed to join parliamentary debates or receive their salaries. Explaining their decision, the CPP-dominated National Assembly permanent committee said that by running as candidates for the CNRP in the July 28 election the opposition lawmakers were effectively representing two parties simultaneously, which was a violation of the laws cited.
The opposition parliamentarians have said that, although they are listed as candidates for the CNRP in the forthcoming election, they never officially resigned from the HRP and SRP, which merged in July to form the CNRP.
Though Mr. Vun said that the CPP is committed to tolerating opposition parties, he did not hold back upon seeing SRP lawmaker Son Chhay speaking to reporters inside the National Assembly compound.
When Mr. Chhay, who is running as a CNRP candidate in July, began talking to reporters outside the conference room where Mr. Vun held his press conference, it took only a few minutes for Mr. Vun to emerge and order Mr. Chhay to leave.
As Mr. Chhay was walking down a corridor inside the assembly, Mr. Vun briskly walked after him and told him with a raised voice: “Son Chhay, please understand you are no longer a lawmaker and you have no right to stand here.”
“Get me the security guards. Throw him out. Don’t let him cause chaos in the National Assembly,” Mr. Vun continued to shout.
Once outside the compound, Mr. Chhay said that he would appeal the National Assembly’s decision to the Constitutional Council, but had no faith that they would support the opposition lawmakers since they too were under the control of the CPP.
“With the situation these days, the courts, Constitutional Council and NEC [National Election Committee] are under the CPP’s influence. We aren’t hopeful that when we file the complaint with the Constitutional Council they will do something for us,” Mr. Chhay said.
But Mr. Chhay said he would continue to fulfill what he called his elected duty to work in his office at the National Assembly.
“I will come to do my job here. I will still use this building as long as they don’t arrest me and confiscate my stuff,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)