King Swears In Opposition Lawmakers

King Norodom Sihamoni presided over a ceremony at the Royal Palace on Tuesday afternoon to swear the opposition CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers into office, more than 10 months after he convened the National Assembly amid mass opposition protests.

Without the razor-wire and military police that shut down central Phnom Penh in September when Prime Minister Hun Sen led his 68 lawmakers to swear in, 52 of the opposition lawmakers arrived at the National Assembly at about 3 p.m. for preparatory tea and snacks.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, hands together, leads the CNRP's 55 lawmakers out of the Royal Palace on Tuesday afternoon after being sworn in to office by King Norodom Sihamoni. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, hands together, leads the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers out of the Royal Palace on Tuesday afternoon after being sworn in to office by King Norodom Sihamoni. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The lawmakers, dressed in formal white coats and knee-length royal blue or purple pantaloons, trickled into the building’s canteen, collecting packages that included new National Assembly license plates for their cars.

Inside the assembly building, the incoming representatives nibbled on small pastries and helped to adjust each other’s pantaloons and sashes.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay told reporters that last month’s agreement for the opposition to end its boycott was a good deal for the party and denied that the jailing of seven of the party’s lawmakers-elect the week before had influenced its decision.

“We have been working on this for many months and we waited until we got enough conditions to allow us to work, so then we joined,” Mr. Chhay said. “Therefore any pressure did not have any grounds to make us decide to swear in today.”

Mr. Chhay, who for months has been advocating within the party for the CNRP to end its boycott, also said that a special session of the National Assembly had been scheduled for Friday, with the 55 CNRP lawmakers set to join the CPP’s 68 for the first time.

After about half an hour in the canteen, the 52 lawmakers emerged as a group and headed for the front steps.

There, they were met by CNRP President Sam Rainsy, Phnom Penh lawmaker Tioulong Saumura, who is also Mr. Rainsy’s wife, and CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha.

After posing for photographs, the group boarded minibuses to be transported to the Royal Palace, where only reporters from state broadcaster TVK were allowed inside.

The group took oaths in a ceremony before King Sihamoni, who has reigned since October 2004, when late King Father Norodom Sihanouk abdicated the throne shortly after the end of a similar post-election deadlock.

The CNRP lawmakers left the palace together shortly before 5 p.m.

“We have fulfilled our obligations,” Mr. Rainsy told reporters from the back seat of his car as it departed from the palace gates.

Mr. Sokha said the party’s lawmakers would now be better equipped to help their supporters, many of whom have called into question the party’s decision to end their boycott with only a fraction of their initial demands having been met.

“We have fulfilled what we had promised,” he said. “We have immunity and can struggle in a peaceful way. No court can threaten us or intimidate us because we have the immunity.”

Mr. Rainsy also told reporters he hoped to now see the release of the three CNRP Youth leaders jailed on Saturday for “joining an insurrection” for their alleged role in the same July 15 street brawl with local security guards that saw the seven CNRP lawmakers briefly jailed last month.

Sam Sokhong, the lawyer for the three youth activists—Khin Chamrouen, 32; Neang Sokhun, 28; and San Kimheng, 28—said he has not heard back about a bail request. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Keo Mony could not be reached.

CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap said by telephone that he welcomed his new colleagues.

“On behalf of the CPP’s lawmakers, we welcome the 55 CNRP lawmakers who this evening swore into office at the Royal Palace,” Mr. Yeap said.

“After the swearing in, they will have their full rights to take National Assembly immunity…and to their seats in the National Assembly from here on out.”

dara@cambodiadaily.com, willemyns@cambodiadaily.com

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