CPP Votes In New Committees Without Opposition CNRP

With just enough of them to make up a quorum of the National Assembly amid the opposition’s ongoing boycott, CPP lawmakers on Thursday unanimously voted in the remaining members of parliament’s nine standing committees all by themselves.

The opposition CNRP, which officially won 55 of the Assem­bly’s 123 seats in July’s national election, is still refusing to take those seats to protest what it says was a rigged vote that robbed it of victory. Party president Sam Rainsy is now touring Western countries, urging them to cut ties with what he is calling an unconstitutional and “illegal” government.

Undeterred, the country’s one-party parliament pressed on with business Thursday.

In a nearly half-empty Assem­bly hall, the CPP’s 65 present lawmakers lined up to cast their ballots for the committee nominees. Sixty-five successive “Yes” votes were then read out and carefully marked up on a white board that was rolled in for the occasion.

After a vote that was never in doubt, Assembly President Heng Samrin congratulated each new committee in turn and urged them to get on with their work.

“I request His Excellencies and Her Excellencies who are the chairs and vice chairs and members of the…nine committees to start organizing the meetings to appoint your secretaries” he said. “Please report the results of this vote to the National Assembly.”

The CPP lawmakers also approved three of their members, Ke Chanmony, Lok Huor and Sieng Nam, as Assembly secretaries.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong were absent from the vote. Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Namhong were both abroad on official business.

As he left the meeting Thursday, Mr. Samrin said the CPP was still willing to negotiate with the opposition to settle the election dispute.

“A political compromise will happen if they come to negotiate for unity,” he told reporters. “We will accept what we have offered them.”

That offer includes the chairmanship of four of the Assem­bly’s nine committees and vice chairmanship of the Assembly itself. The CNRP is angling for the Assembly’s presidency and the chair of six committees, enough to block any CPP initiatives.

After the session, CPP lawmaker and party spokesman Cheam Yeap insisted there was nothing illegal or unconstitutional about the new parliament, noting that Mr. Rainsy himself in 2003 supported motions to reduce the necessary quorum from two-thirds to half plus one.

“An absolute majority means dividing the entire voice of the Assembly into two, meaning it’s 50 percent plus one,” he said.

“We are the winning party, so we can’t allow any other party to insult us saying we are riding the horse without holding the reins and not respecting the law,” he added. “Sam Rainsy and [CNRP vice president] Kem Sokha are the ones who don’t respect the Constitution by staging a constitutional coup.”

He also repeated a post-election threat from Mr. Hun Sen that the National Election Committee (NEC) would give the opposition’s hard-won seats away. Mr. Yeap said the CPP would wait two months from the day parliament opened on Sep­tember 23 before approaching the NEC to ask it to give the CNRP’s seats away.

“We will inform the NEC before two months because they have the authority to implement the election rules,” he said. “We have the Law on Political Parties and we have the election law, so we have some articles in these laws.”

Both laws say the NEC can give away a party’s seats, but only if the party “declares to abandon” them.

Mr. Yeap argued that a prolonged absence would effectively mean the opposition was abandoning its seats.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha on Thursday refused to weigh in on the matter but last month he said abandoning seats and boycotting the Assembly were not the same thing.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann on Thursday again insisted that the party was not abandoning its seats.

“We do not abandon, we boycott,” Mr. Sovann said. If the CPP tried giving the opposition’s seats away, “the people who vote for the CNRP will take necessary action to protect their representatives…any action that is legal and peaceful.”

As for Thursday’s Assembly vote, he said it was just as unconstitutional as the opening session of the Assembly on September 23.

“Since September 23 the government was formed illegally, that is why we do not recognize the National Assembly,” Mr. Sovann said. “So we do not pay attention to that.”

Mr. Rainsy has sent out letters to some of Cambodia’s international donors, including the European Union and World Bank, urging them to suspend all agreements with the new government and is touring a handful of West­ern countries on the back of it.

Mr. Rainsy is expected back in time for the opposition’s next mass protest in Phnom Penh against the election on October 23.

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