King to Swear CNRP Into Assembly Tuesday

King Norodom Sihamoni will preside over a swearing-in ceremony at the Royal Palace on Tuesday afternoon for the 55 lawmakers-elect from the opposition CNRP, who have been boycotting their seats for the past 10 months over claims the July 2013 election was rigged.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy confirmed Monday his party’s lawmakers will be sworn in Tuesday. “Tomorrow 4 p.m. at the Royal Palace,” he said of the swear-in, hours after the two parties approved the wording of a new chapter in the Constitution.

Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol also confirmed in a letter that the ceremony will be presided over by King Sihamoni, who on September 23 swore in the 68 CPP lawmakers despite the CNRP’s protest.

“I have the honor to inform Excellencies that the Royal Palace Ministry is ready to organize the swearing-in ceremony for the 55 lawmakers…[from the CNRP] presided over by the King of Cambodia on August 5, 2014, at 4 p.m. at the Royal Palace,” he wrote.

Tuesday’s ceremony comes two weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen and Mr. Rainsy cut a deal for the CNRP’s lawmakers to end their boycott in exchange for an overhaul of the National Election Committee (NEC), which the CNRP accuses of rigging elections in favor of the ruling CPP.

Under the deal, the NEC, which has long been dominated by the ruling party, is to be overhauled and renamed, with four of its members chosen by each party and a ninth selected by both.

This process will be enshrined in the new Chapter 15 of the Constitution, which the CPP and CNRP have been drafting for the past two weeks following the CNRP’s demands that details of the reform be released to the public before its elected lawmakers enter the assembly.

Under a deal finalized in writing in the morning, and following final demands from the CPP, the new chapter of the Constitution will guarantee only the “four-four-one” composition of the new NEC and the body’s financial autonomy and independence from the government.

Not included in Chapter 15 are CNRP proposals for immunity from prosecution for members of the reformed NEC or details about how they will be replaced if they are unable to fulfill their duties.

Instead, these points will be included in a new law on the functioning of the new election commission, which will be separate from the current Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly, according to minutes of a bipartisan working group meeting Monday.

Mr. Rainsy said that instead of immunity from prosecution, NEC members would be given the same protections as members of the Constitutional Council and the Supreme Council of the Magistracy.

“All these details will be stated in the law on the organization and the functioning of the NEC,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“This is a commitment, this is binding, these minutes are an official document, the CPP has presented this and they have committed themselves to putting those provisions in the election law.”

The law governing the Constitutional Council says its members “shall not be liable to any penal or civil sanction for decisions taken while fulfilling their function” as a member, but that they lose their position if convicted of any other misdemeanor or felony.

On Wednesday, Mr. Rainsy had drafted a copy of Chapter 15 that included immunity for the nine members of the new NEC. However, the CPP the next day rejected the proposal, saying it is not international practice to offer such extensive protection to election organizers.

On Friday evening, at a working group meeting between the parties, the CNRP then consented to drop its demand for immunity and instead proposed that the process to replace members of the NEC also be encoded into Chapter 15 to provide some security of tenure.

Yet even this proposal was rejected. Late on Sunday night, Interior Minister Sar Kheng publicly released a letter he had sent to Mr. Rainsy saying the ruling party thought it unnecessary to include in the Constitution any stipulations about such a process.

Mr. Kheng wrote that the replacement process was a matter to be determined through legislation passed in the National Assembly, which the CPP will continue to control with 68 of the 123 seats.

“The CNRP has proposed on the issue of the NEC to add context concerning the selection of new members in the case of [a serving NEC member] losing membership,” Mr. Kheng said in his letter.

“The CPP considers that this point is not necessary to be placed into the Constitution because the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the nation, states only key policies.”

The CNRP request for constitutionally enshrined legal protections for the NEC members came after a request from Licadho President Pung Chhiv Kek, who was last week selected to be the ninth and neutral member of the new election commission, that the members be given immunity.

Ms. Chhiv Kek, who could not be reached for comment, said upon being selected that she would accept the position only on the condition the immunity was granted.

Licadho technical supervisor Am Sam Ath said Ms. Chhiv Kek was presently considering her options.

“She will consider the agreement that was made today, since what she has asked for has not been met. She also wanted autonomy in the selection of NEC staff to be put into the Constitution but this is going to be placed only in the election law,” Mr. Sam Ath said.

Last night, three CNRP youth organizers also remained in Prey Sar prison after being jailed on Saturday for “joining an insurrection” because of their presence at a street brawl that broke out at a July 15 opposition protest in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Rainsy on Sunday had said that the three—Khin Chamrouen, 32; Neang Sokhun, 28; and San Kimheng, 28—would likely be released upon the announcement of the date for the swearing-in.

However, Sam Sokong, a lawyer representing the trio, said he had sent a request for bail to the court in the morning but had not received a reply.

“We have submitted the application this morning to ask for the bail since they have listed their occupations, their family, so they will appear whenever the court wants to see them,” he said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Keo Mony said at about 4 p.m. that the court had not received the request.

However, Mr. Rainsy reiterated that under the terms of his July 22 deal with Mr. Hun Sen, the three youth leaders should soon be released when the 55 lawmakers-elect are sworn in.

“Hun Sen promised that Freedom Park will be opened, fundamental freedoms such as freedom of assembly will be restored…and all people arrested related to past events will be released,” he said.

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