National Assembly Opens, Includes Opposition

The National Assembly opened on Monday with Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers in attendance, ending their six-month boycott of the legislative body.

Ruling CPP and Funcinpec party officials welcomed the opposition’s return, suggesting the boycott had been a waste of time. Opposition officials said they were not pressured to return but came back to confront what they claimed was mounting corruption in their absence.

“I am happy to see them fulfilling their roles as lawmakers,” National Assembly Vice President Heng Samrin told reporters Monday, ad­ding that opposition lawmakers stripped of their parliamentary immunity still had a right to attend legislative sessions.

“He still has a right to come,” he said of opposition lawmaker Chea Poch, who returned from self-im­posed exile last week after being stripped of his immunity in February.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy and jailed opposition leader Cheam Channy, who were also stripped of their immunity, received invitations to attend the session as well, As­sembly officials said.

Heng Samrin added that Chea Poch’s parliamentary immunity would be restored if a court clears him of defamation charges filed by As­sembly President Prince Noro­dom Ranariddh.

“The boycott gained them nothing, and the Assembly continued its work,” Heng Samrin said.

The Assembly originally re­quired a quorum of 87 lawmakers, but this was reduced in May to 74 after the ruling coalition on several occasions had difficulty mustering enough at­tendees to make quorum.

Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay said opposition lawmakers returned to work because they thought it was in the best in­terests of the country.

“Corruption, the sale of state property increased during the boycott,” he claimed. “That’s why the party decided to stop the boycott.”

He added that the international community had also urged opposition lawmakers to return to work and said the party would continue to raise the issue of parliamentary immunity.

Present at the Assembly on Mon­­­day were 105 of the body’s 123 members. Among those absent were Prince Ranariddh, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Norodom Va­cheara and Foreign Minister Hor Nam­hong.


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