What was meant to be a victory in the CNRP’s campaign to assert the National Assembly’s sovereignty from the executive ended up being a field day for the ruling CPP, as the opposition’s lawmakers on Thursday boycotted the questioning of Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana.
The CNRP has long called for government ministers to appear on the floor of the Assembly to be grilled but had been rebuffed until officials earlier this week summoned Mr. Vong Vathana to appear over a range of issues including offshore holdings revealed in the “Panama Papers.”
However, opposition lawmakers are boycotting the Assembly over the arrests of their colleagues despite their immunity from prosecution, and did not show up on Thursday, allowing the justice minister to take full advantage.
“I am surprised and I could not have expected that all the 16 lawmakers who put the questions for me to answer at this time are absent, lacking reason and responsibility,” the justice minister told the Assembly.
Mr. Vong Vathana briefly responded to a question about pre-trial detention of accused criminals and another about his powers as minister over prosecutors. The minister then gave up the floor to other CPP lawmakers, who blasted the opposition over claims their lawmakers should not be arrested due to their immunity.
CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An and opposition senator Hong Sok Hour are already in prison, while the arrest of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha has been “approved” by the Assembly, with CPP lawmakers having adopted a novel interpretation of immunity that the CNRP argues violates the Constitution.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap told the Assembly that the law was simply being implemented as written. “I would like to ask you how could we help? Because those lawmakers committed crimes illegally outside of the National Assembly,” he said.
Chheang Vun, the spokesman for the CPP in the Assembly, then decried Mr. Sokha for still failing to confirm or deny accusations that he had an affair, three months after the claims were first made.
“If we do not respond, how can people believe us?” Mr. Vun asked. “If we protect a scandalous story, what will our Cambodian society look like in the future?”
Mr. Vun then accused Mr. Sokha of rank hypocrisy, claiming he had taken a mistress who was half-Vietnamese.
“He goes everywhere to tell people to hate the Yuon, but he had a secret Yuon wife and they had two children. That is completely cheating, and he lied, and we cannot accept that,” he said, using a term for Vietnamese often considered derogatory.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann declined to comment on the sitting.