SRP lawmakers caused the National Assembly to grind to a halt when they walked out mid-session Tuesday, prompting a senior CPP parliamentarian to call for new punitive measures to ensure such behavior doesn’t reoccur.
A handful of SRP lawmakers stood up and left the Assembly shortly before a vote on the draft law to approve government expenditures for 2004, which they argue is an inaccurate account of what was really spent that year.
Despite the absence of the SRP members, the law was passed by a 62-to-13 vote. However, when CPP lawmakers left after the vote to attend the funeral of CPP lawmaker Khieu Hol, a quorum of 62 parliamentarians could no longer be reached to debate further laws awaiting parliament’s attention.
National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin informed the Assembly he was postponing Tuesday’s debates until after the Khmer New Year.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said by telephone that lawmakers must be stopped from walking out of parliament without permission from Heng Samrin. It was acceptable for the CPP lawmakers to leave the session because they had received permission, but the SRP had no right to do so, he said.
“We will cut their salaries, blame them, inform their constituencies and oust them from the session,” Cheam Yeap said of lawmakers who stage future walkouts.
Cheam Yeap said that the Assembly’s internal rules forbid lawmakers from leaving mid-session without Heng Samrin’s permission, but this has not been enforced. He added that he will seek strict enforcement of the rule the next time the Assembly’s Permanent Committee—of which he is a member—convenes.
“If they do not like the law…they do not have to vote for it, but they cannot leave the session,” he said.
SRP lawmaker Chea Poch said that he left the session to protest against the budget law.
“We wanted to warn the government not to introduce that type of legislation again,” he said.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy said he walked out because he believed there was little purpose to the legislation.
“The law is not important and not necessary. If it had been important, I would have stayed,” Sam Rainsy said outside the Assembly, adding that he would not return because he had to attend a meeting.
SRP lawmaker Ho Vann said he and his colleagues were perfectly entitled to walk out.
“It is not wrong that we walked out of the session because we are in a democratic society,” he said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said one obstacle to reaching a quorum is the number of CPP government ministers who also hold seats in the Assembly but rarely attend sessions.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said there was no law preventing government officials from being lawmakers. Government officials have received permission to be absent from Assembly sessions because of their busy schedules, he said.
“Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers have only one job, so they should stay in the session,” Khieu Kanharith added.