If newly elected opposition parliamentarians follow through with their threat to boycott the National Assembly’s official swearing-in ceremony, their seats will be divided among the CPP and Funcinpec, Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith warned Monday.
SRP President Sam Rainsy said last week that his party, along with the Human Rights Party and Norodom Ranariddh Party, will boycott the first session of the National Assembly unless alleged election irregularities are addressed. Sam Rainsy has also demanded that the opposition receive chairmanship positions on some of the Assembly’s powerful committees.
Speaking to reporters at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Khieu Kanharith said that if the opposition parties follow through with their threat, 15 of their 31 projected parliamentary seats will be given to the CPP and the 16 remaining seats will be given to Funcinpec, which currently has only two seats.
“If other parties boycott as they have claimed, the [CPP and Funcinpec] will divide the seats. The CPP receives 15 seats—this is the law,” he said. Khieu Kanharith also claimed there is friction between the SRP, the HRP and the NRP, and that many of their lawmakers are poised to break ranks with their respective leaders.
“Within those parties…some members will oppose [the boycott], and they will join [the swearing-in ceremony],” he said.
On Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly admonished Sam Rainsy at Phnom Penh International Airport, warning that if the opposition fails to have its lawmakers sworn in, they will lose their seats.
Sam Rainsy said by telephone Monday that he was neither concerned by prime minister’s nor the information minister’s threats and that the boycott will continue as planned.
“It means that the CPP is concerned-they are afraid,” Sam Rainsy said. He declined to comment further.
NRP spokesman Muth Channtha said Monday that it would be illegal for the new government to attempt to strip elected lawmakers of their seats in parliament.
“We will boycott the session. It is illegal to divide the seats [among other parties],” Muth Channtha said, adding that the threat to take the Assembly seat was merely “psychological warfare.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, however, maintained on Monday that by boycotting the ceremony the opposition will have indicated that they are abandoning their positions at the Assembly, which would then make it legal to redistribute their seats.
Article 118 of the Election Law, dealing with replacing an elected lawmaker, states that a lawmaker who dies, resigns or loses membership in the Assembly can be replaced. According to the law, a replacement must come from the candidate list of the party in question and not from another party. Article 118 does not make any mention about what to do in the event that an elected candidate refuses to be sworn in.
“If they don’t join, it means that they have abandoned their seats. The other parties can share their seats,” Cheam Yeap said.
Koul Panha, director of election monitor NGO Comfrel, said that the election law is unclear regarding lawmakers who are not sworn-in and the issue would have to be interpreted by the Constitutional Council, which would most likely rule in favor of the CPP.
“Even though parties who boycott the Assembly do not abandon their seats, the ruling party will divide their seats,” Koul Panha said, adding that the council “interprets the law in favor of the ruling party.”
Constitutional Council President Ek Sam Ol could not be contacted for comment on Monday.