Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday warned that he will give the CNRP parliamentary seats away if they refuse to take their seats at the National Assembly, German Ambassador Wolfgang Moser said.
Ambassador Moser said Mr. Hun Sen asked him to pass that message along to the CNRP during a private meeting at the prime minister’s office Thursday morning.
Mr. Moser said the prime minister raised the prospect of redistributing the CNRP’s seats to other minor political parties, none of which won any National Assembly positions in Sunday’s election, only as a last resort if the opposition attempts to boycott Assembly meetings.
Political commentators have noted that the CNRP’s bloc of some 55 parliamentary seats could prevent the CPP, with 68 seats, from reaching the necessary quorum required by law to host the first, government-forming National Assembly meeting once official election results are known.
“He put forward two scenarios,” Mr. Moser said of his meeting with the prime minister.
“First, he offered closer cooperation than was in the [previous] National Assembly…. He said he has offered incorporation, but he is ruling out a coalition” with the CNRP.
The second scenario, Mr. Moser said, was not so accommodating to the CNRP.
“He [Mr. Hun Sen] said the Constitution has a provision…if members of Parliament do not take their seats in due course, there is a provision that would let him distribute the seats to other parties,” the ambassador said.
“To my reading and understanding it is the NEC [National Election Committee] that could do that; he did not say ‘he’ would do that,” Mr. Moser added.
“But he [Mr. Hun Sen] was very clear he was looking forward to cooperation” with the opposition.
Regarding the first scenario, Mr. Moser said the prime minister did not elaborate on what that cooperation with the opposition would look like, but he took it to possibly mean prominent positions for the CNRP on some of the Assembly’s commissions.
On top of that, the ambassador added, Mr. Hun Sen “said the government would be much more ready than it used to be to respond to questioning in the Assembly.”
The ambassador said he would not comment on the prospect of seeing the opposition’s seats forcibly redistributed as the official election results have not yet been released.
Mr. Moser also said it was too early to say whether the election was free and fair, though he had “some hope” in the investigating committee the opposition is calling for to look into reports of widespread irregularities on election day.
The ambassador also said the prime minister had welcomed the prospect of an investigation of vote irregularities during their meeting.
On Thursday, however, the NEC ruled out any direct role for political parties or NGOs in an investigation of voting irregularities while state media issued a correction noting that Mr. Hun Sen had not welcomed “international” participation in the independent investigative committee called for by the CNRP.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann called Mr. Hun Sen’s warning to give away their seats unlawful and “out of date.”
“I ask him to try it,” Mr. Sovann said.
“I want him to try and you can ask 3 million voters what will happen if he tries to give away those seats they gave to the CNRP. Will the voters agree, and will the millions of youth agree?”
He also rejected Mr. Hun Sen’s claim that the CPP could form the next government without the opposition taking its seats and said at least 120 elected lawmakers would have to show up to the Assembly’s first meeting to make it valid.
The Constitution states that the Assembly “shall comprise at least 120 members.”
But, the Constitution also says that each new Assembly must elect its leaders by a simple majority, or 50 percent plus 1.
The Constitution, however, appears to contain nothing pertaining to replacing National Assembly members who refuse to take their seats. The law on National Assembly elections, however, says the NEC can redistribute a party’s seats to others, but only if the party “declares to abandon” their seats, or if the party is removed from the list of recognized political parties.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said such a provision in the National Assembly law could not be used to remove CNRP parliamentarians’ positions.
“You can’t assume automatically that they reject [their Assembly seats]” if they refuse to sit, Mr. Panha said.
He also concurred with Mr. Sovann that the National Assembly requires at least 120 of its elected members to show up to its first meeting to form the next government.
Keo Phalla, head of the NEC’s legal services department, declined to comment on Mr. Hun Sen’s warning that was passed on to the German ambassador.
“I don’t know and have no knowledge about this,” he said. “I can’t comment.”
Mr. Moser also said that Mr. Hun Sen on Thursday accused the European Union of hypocrisy for often chastising his government’s human rights abuses but giving CNRP president Sam Rainsy a free pass for his racist rants against Vietnam on the campaign trail. Mr. Moser said the E.U. was considering reacting to Mr. Rainsy’s rhetoric.
Earlier Thursday, Eang Sophalleth, Mr. Hun Sen’s personal assistant, offered a similar account of the meeting with Mr. Moser and said the prime minister delivered the same warning message to Chinese Ambassador Bu Jianguo later Thursday morning.
“In case they [the CNRP] boycott or abandon their candidates, they [their seats] can be taken and divided among other parties and they will be sworn in. After the new lawmakers are announced and sworn in, they will create the government,” Mr. Sophalleth said.
He said Mr. Hun Sen also rejected interpretations of the Constitution that claimed the National Assembly needed more than a simple majority of elected members to convene its first post-election meeting.
Mr. Sophalleth also said that Mr. Hun Sen rejected the possibility of forming a coalition with the CNRP.
“Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] sent a message to the E.U. and the opposition that it could not, because it went against democratic principles that require a government and an opposition,” he said.
After his initial press briefing, however, Mr. Sophalleth called reporters back to the prime minister’s office about an hour later telling them that his first briefing was incorrect.
In his second briefing, Mr. Sophalleth avoided most of what he had said the first time, saying instead that both the Chinese and German ambassadors had congratulated Mr. Hun Sen on winning the election.
“His Excellency Wolfgang also congratulated him on the vote and said that his chancellor, Angela Merkel, would be very happy if she had won a majority like the Cambodian People’s Party,” Mr. Sophalleth said.
Mr. Moser later confirmed congratulating the prime minister on the win “on the basis of the preliminary results,” he said.