Hun Sen Says CPP Could Get CNRP’s Seats

Prime Minister Hun Sen warned on Friday that if opposition CNRP members fail to take their seats in Parliament before the end of the 60-day deadline for the formation of a new government, those seats could be given to his long-ruling CPP.

It was Mr. Hun Sen’s second comment in as many days on the subject of the CNRP forfeiting their hard-won parliamentary positions should they attempt, through boycott or other means, to delay the launch of his fifth government mandate.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, flanked by ministers, bodyguards and government officials, steers a motorized plow in a rice paddy in Kandal province on Friday. Mr. Hun Sen used his rural visit to warn the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party of the dire consequences of boycotting Parliament. (Sok Chamroeun)
Prime Minister Hun Sen, flanked by ministers, bodyguards and government officials, steers a motorized plow in a rice paddy in Kandal province on Friday. Mr. Hun Sen used his rural visit to warn the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party of the dire consequences of boycotting Parliament. (Sok Chamroeun)

“It’s written in the election law and the law is [open to interpretation],” Mr. Hun Sen said during a two-hour, widely televised address to villagers in Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district.

“Whenever a party gives up seats or they have denied them, the National Election Committee [NEC] will take those seats to divide them up to other parties that have National Assembly seats—so it will all go to the Cambodian People’s Party,” said Mr. Hun Sen while seated on a mat in the shade of a Bodhi tree shortly after arriving by helicopter in the province.

In his address, which came after he and a bevy of senior CPP officials had helped locals transplant rice saplings, Mr. Hun Sen alluded to a conversation he had with German Ambassador Wolf­gang Moser on Thursday.

Mr. Hun Sen clarified that he had not told the German ambassador that the CNRP seats would be given away to other parties who had contested the election, but only to his own party, which was in accord with NEC regulations.

“I said that nobody has the right to confiscate National Assembly seats. But any party can give up their seats, and the NEC can divide them,” he said.

Such a redistribution of seats, he said, would be the CNRP’s fault alone.

“If they [the CNRP] don’t abandon them, how can those seats be divided?”

The ruling CPP and CNRP have issued competing claims to vic­tory since polls closed on Sunday. The CPP quickly declared a win of 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55—a preliminary result that has also been endorsed by the NEC. But the CNRP has since contested that figure and is claiming a win with at least 63 seats to the CPP’s 60.

The opposition has also de­manded an investigation into the irregularities that saw a substantial number of people unable to cast votes on Sunday, while members of the opposition have indicated that their failure to participate in the first National Assembly session after the official election result announcement could prevent the formation of a new government.

Mr. Hun Sen said Friday that nothing of that nature will happen, and that the opposition has no choice but to either take their seats in the new Assembly or lose them.

While the National Assembly could not hold a session without a nearly full compliment of 120 lawmakers, Mr. Hun Sen said that any party that opposes King Norodom Sihamoni’s invitation to form a new National Assembly, which he can do when there is a quorum of lawmakers, opposes the monarchy.

“When the king invites you and you refuse to attend, it means you oppose the king. His Majesty the king will invite you, but whether you will go or not remains the question.

“You oppose the people’s will who voted for you to go to work at the National Assembly, but you will deny them,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

“If you don’t want to go to the session, resign and abandon the seats,” he said.

“It is written in the election law…. This is not written in the Constitution, but it is in the election law. Whenever a party gives up seats or has denied them, the National Election Committee will take those seats to divide for the other parties that have National Assembly seats,” he said.

The Constitution states that the National Assembly “shall comprise at least 120 members,” but contains no specific provisions pertaining to the replacement of National Assembly members who refuse to take their seats.

According to the law on National Assembly elections, the NEC can redistribute seats to another party, but only if the party “declares to abandon” their seats, or if the party is removed from the list of recognized political parties.

The CNRP has not done this, and is still recognized as a political party.

In his rambling speech, Mr. Hun Sen also took the U.S. to task over threats made in the past few weeks that aid to Cambodia could be cut if the national election was not credible and competitive.

In June, the U.S. Senate tabled a resolution that called for a cut in aid to Cambodia amid concerns that last Sunday’s vote would be neither “credible,” nor “competitive,” and it asked other donor countries to follow suit. That was followed by a bill put forward in early July by U.S. lawmaker Steve Chabot, who chaired the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific hearing on Cambodia’s looming election.

In that congressional hearing, Mr. Chabot said sending observers to Cambodia would merely “legitimize Hun Sen’s illegitimate victory,” and echoed the Senate resolution with calls for the U.S. to stymie the flow of aid to Cambodia.

Mr. Hun Sen retorted on Friday by inviting the U.S. to cut its aid to Cambodia, saying to the assembled crowd that such a move would only affect the NGO sector and not the government.

“If you are brave enough, cut it off,” Mr. Hun Sen said, adding that the U.S. officials calling for the aid cut did not represent the view of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The U.S. provides about $50 million to Cambodia on an annual basis, and $1 million of that goes to the Cambodian military, Mr. Hun Sen said.

The prime minister also said that other countries could step in should the U.S. opt out of aid to the country, citing the example of donated Chinese military trucks in 2010. That year, the U.S. stopped a shipment of used military trucks to Cambodia after the government summarily extradited to China 20 ethnic Uighur asylum-seekers who had sought asylum here. China responded to the extradition and the U.S.’ hold on the trucks by donating its own shipment of 250 military vehicles, and announced a $1.2 billion aid and loans package.

As his lengthy speech drew on Friday, Mr. Hun Sen focused his attention on the likelihood that demonstrations by CNRP supporters may happen, which he said would be the harbingers of an era of instability and increase crime in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Hun Sen said that any demonstrations against the outcome of the election would be met by pro-result rallies on behalf of his CPP, and that chaos on the streets would likely ensue and force small businesses to close down.

Mr. Hun Sen then used the ex­ample of the factional fighting of 1997, when troops loyal to him deposed then-First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh, to hammer home his point of the dangers of opposition street protests.

“Don’t you remember in 1997, when the troops went into the city, it wasn’t the military but the garment workers who stole things from the factories. Be careful, because the same might happen again,” the prime minister warned.

“If the opposition party has the ability to protest against the election result, can’t the Cambodian People’s Party demonstrate in support of the result? One side would be supporting and the other side opposing. What will the situation be, and what will happen?”

Reached by telephone, CNRP president Sam Rainsy insisted that the party has no intention of surrendering its hard-won seats and suggested that Mr. Hun Sen re-read the relevant laws.

“Not attending a session does not mean that we formally give up the seats,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“It would be very funny,” he said.

“Imagine if the CPP would do it, the end result would be very funny because the CPP would end up controlling the 123 seats, so we would go back to the one-party communist system,” he added.

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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