A former Ministry of Justice secretary of state was almost denied a seat on the Supreme Council of Magistracy on Monday after the ruling CPP failed to ensure it had a majority of lawmakers present at the National Assembly.
Retired Judge Ith Rady was one of five candidates up for the vacant position on the council, which is tasked with maintaining the independence of the country’s judiciary and ensuring its proper functioning. Judge Rady was the CPP’s favored candidate.
In last year’s election, the CPP won a majority 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55. However, when it came time for the vote Monday, Mr. Rady secured only 60 votes in the 123-seat parliament, with one “nay” ballot registered, 44 invalid votes and 18 lawmakers absent.
Forty-one of the invalid votes were blank ballots cast by CNRP lawmakers, who were protesting the selection process for the five candidates, from which they said they had been excluded.
“According to the result of the election that has come out this moment, I would like to announce that you, the five candidates, were not elected,” National Assembly President Heng Samrin said.
An hour later, the parliamentarians returned to the chamber along with three previously absent CPP lawmakers, but without one lawmaker from the CNRP who had left the parliament.
In a second round of voting, Mr. Rady was finally elected to the Supreme Council of the Magistracy with 66 votes in favor, one vote against him and 40 invalid votes.
CNRP public affairs director Mu Sochua said 41 of the party’s 55 lawmakers were initially present in the chamber. The opposition’s chief whip, Son Chhay, said he left midway through the session because he was busy with other tasks.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy said the opposition party’s delegation had submitted blank ballots in both rounds of voting.
“We did not take part in show- ing any presence because we were actually out of the process since the very beginning,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy met with Prime Minister Hun Sen after the session and said they discussed changes to the assembly’s internal rules, as well as the new election commission, both of which were promised as part of a July deal that saw the CNRP end its 10-month boycott of parliament.
After months of negotiations to hammer out the details of the agreement, the parties remain split on the qualifications needed for the secretary-general of the National Election Committee.
“Since the working groups of the two parties have been trying to do this and there is still some gap, Hun Sen and I tried to reduce the gap,” Mr. Rainsy said.
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)