New Assembly Leadership Sits Following CPP Theatrics

In a theatrical start to CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha’s term as the first vice president of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday rose to the floor of parliament to demand that a recalcitrant Nguon Nhel, the outgoing first vice president, hand the seat over to Mr. Sokha.

Under the deal cut between Mr. Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy to end the CNRP’s boycott of the National Assembly late last month, the ruling CPP retained control of the posts of president and second vice president of the assembly with the CNRP taking over the post of first vice president.

Lawmakers attend Tuesday's sitting of the National Assembly. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Lawmakers attend Tuesday’s sitting of the National Assembly. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Sokha was accordingly elected first vice president in a morning session of parliament Tuesday, receiving 116 votes in the secret ballot, with four lawmakers voting against him, two abstaining and Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol presently absent due to his trip with King Norodom Sihamoni to Beijing.

After a 15-minute break that followed the vote, Mr. Nhel, who had effectively been demoted to second vice president, rushed back to his old seat as first vice president, on the right-hand side of National Assembly President Hang Samrin.

An apparently annoyed and reluctant Mr. Sokha appeared to be about to accept the leather chair designated for the second vice president—on Mr. Samrin’s left—before Mr. Hun Sen rose and intervened.

“If you don’t want to change, the position tags must be removed because it won’t cause any problems if it’s just a quick switch there,” Mr. Hun Sen said over his microphone, before asking the CPP lawmaker to give his seat to Mr. Sokha. “Please, excellency Nguon Nhel, move over there,” the prime minister said.

Mr. Nhel and Mr. Sokha then quickly switched their seats behind Mr. Samrin. The prime minister, still standing, appeared to scold Mr. Nhel, who had been voted first vice president of the CPP-only National Assembly in its first sitting in September.

“I’m sorry but it’s not right, because it’s not really that hard for one to walk to sit here and there,” Mr. Hun Sen said.

The vote in the morning had removed National Assembly Second Vice President Khuon Sodary from her position to make room for Mr. Nhel. Ms. Sodary did not protest her demotion and took her seat as a regular CPP lawmaker after the break.

Since the July 22 deal was struck, the prime minister has warned that the CPP’s 67 other lawmakers may not have the party discipline to join with the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers to vote in the reforms under the deal without his commanding presence in the chamber.

The morning’s theatrics appeared to show the substance of Mr. Hun Sen’s threat, which he has used to warn the CNRP against any surprise parliamentary boycotts that he says would force rescheduling of sittings when he is too busy to attend.

Mr. Sokha, who had for months during the parliamentary boycott promised CNRP supporters that the party would never take its seats without a guarantee of a fresh election, told reporters after Tuesday’s sitting that the CNRP’s new legislative powers would check the executive and judiciary branches.

“We want to see the three wheels of democracy running at the same time,” he said. “If we let each power become imbalanced, there will not be political stability.”

Tuesday’s sitting also saw three of the 10 parliamentary commissions formed, with CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap maintaining his position as chair of the finance, economy and banking commission, control of which was allocated to the CPP in the July 22 deal.

Opposition lawmakers Eng Chhay Eang and Pol Ham were voted in as heads of the human rights commission and investment, planning and agriculture commission, respectively.

The assembly will sit again Wednesday to continue selecting the remaining commissions.

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