National Assembly Spokesman Defends New Rules

National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun on Thursday defended a controversial government circular made public last week that gives the body’s president, Heng Samrin, the exclusive right to decide who gets to enter the parliamentary complex and bars private citizens from joining assembly commission meetings.

Speaking at a press conference at the Assembly, Mr. Vun, a senior CPP lawmaker, said that as Assembly president it was within Mr. Samrin’s authority to issue the circular—signed and dated December 12—without consulting other Assembly members.

“As it says in the Constitution …Samdech President [Mr. Samrin] has the right to create the circular personally,” he said. “It is his role to keep and maintain order in the Assembly.”

Opposition lawmakers say the new circular could stymie their plans to call government ministers and nongovernment experts in for questioning. They say it contravenes the “spirit” of the July 22 agreement between Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy that saw the opposition end its boycott of parliament.

Mr. Vun on Thursday denied the charge.

“How does this affect [the spirit of the agreement]?” he said. “The internal rules state that this is how it is, so what can we do?”

Contacted by telephone, CNRP lawmaker Yem Ponhearith, the newly elected head of the assembly’s education commission, said the circular would not go unchallenged.

“There is no law prohibiting us from reviewing this circular,” Mr. Ponhearith said. “We want to have broad powers for [CNRP] lawmakers…to work at the Assembly.”

Koul Panha, executive director of the election watchdog group Comfrel, said Mr. Samrin had no right to issue the circular before it was approved by the Assembly and that the Constitution does not give him the right to decide who can enter parliamentary grounds.

“There is nothing in the Constitution that allows the president of the Assembly to issue such a circular. What is the authority he relies on? His role is only to coordinate the meetings,” he said.

“He is not a CEO or director of a company.”

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