CPP Sets Date to Relieve CNRP of ‘Minority Party’ Status

In what it described as an effort to quiet their political opposition and its calls for negotiations over alleged political prisoners, the CPP on Monday pushed ahead with its plans to remove an article from the National Assembly’s internal rules granting the CNRP “minority group” status.

Following a meeting of the Assembly’s CPP-controlled permanent committee, which decided that the amendment would be put before a full session of parliament this month, CPP spokesman Chheang Vun compared the move to turning down a radio.

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Opposition lawmakers, seated in the front two rows, attend a session of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh last year. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“It’s like a radio: If we turned up the volume and we could not listen to it, we must turn it down,” he said, adding that it was the CNRP’s fault for trying to secure the release of imprisoned human rights workers in talks with the CPP.

“If we continued a dialogue that pushed the CPP to violate the law, we could not do that,” he said.

Though largely symbolic, the establishment of an official

minority group during post-election talks in 2014 was heralded by the CNRP as a positive step for democracy, institutionalizing a two-party system in a country long ruled by one.

The suggestion that the CPP is not willing to negotiate the release of prisoners contradicts numerous examples of the party doing exactly that, most recently releasing an opposition commune chief last month, the day after talks between acting CNRP President Kem Sokha and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mr. Hun Sen also personally requested a pardon for Mr. Sokha last month after he was sentenced to five months in prison for refusing court summonses over a “prostitution” case. Four officers for rights group Adhoc and a senior election official have been imprisoned for 270 days for allegedly bribing his mistress to deny the affair.

Mr. Hun Sen prompted the move to amend Article 48 of the internal rules on his way to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week, telling the government-aligned Fresh News service that the so-called “culture of dialogue” between the two parties was making it “difficult to work.”

CPP lawmakers have quickly pushed ahead with his directive, and, with a majority of seats in the National Assembly, will be able to pass the measure unilaterally.

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith, who was one of two opposition lawmakers to attend Monday’s meeting in parliament, said he was in disbelief over the situation.

“I don’t understand this because we had moved ahead, but now we are moving backward,” he said, adding that he “extremely regretted” the CPP’s decision.

He said the party had not decided whether it would attend the full session of parliament to vote on the amendment next Tuesday.

“In principle, the CNRP will not support this decision,” he said. “Our position is we still support solving the issues between Khmers and Khmers and we still believe we will be able to solve this issue.”

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