Newcomers to Steal the Show in Parliament

The squabbling continues. Allegations of fraud still fly. But whatever the challenges to the official result, few observers believe much can now be done to alter the preliminary composition of the new National Assembly.

And when the coalition deals are struck and the new parliament convenes for the first time, veteran Assembly stalwarts could be forgiven for glancing around at coffee time, searching vainly for old friends—or enemies—with whom to break a biscuit.

Going by preliminary results re­leased by the National Election Committee Wednesday, and the official candidate lists drawn up by the parties, almost half of those who will take the oath for the new Assem­bly session will do so for the first time ever.

Of the CPP’s projected 64 seats, 21 will be occupied by newcomers to the chamber—in part, a reflection of the party’s increa­sed share of the vote. The vast majority of sitting deputies also ran for a second term, a measure of the party’s ability to keep its ranks together while opponents often self-destructed.

In contrast, the hemorrhage of Funcinpec parliamentarians du­ring the last 18 months means that 23 of its 43 deputies will enter the Assembly for the first time. One of the party’s few con­so­la­tions may be the thought of re­ne­ga­des who split off only to be shut out of the Assembly alto­gether.

One former Funcinpec member, Sam Rainsy, succeeded in win­ning 15 seats in his self-named party’s first-ever poll.

Among those deputies, only two have previously served in the legislature—Sam Rainsy himself, and Son Chhay, a former representative for the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party.

Sam Rainsy Party deputies may have the least experience in the workings of parliament, but that may be a blessing rather than a handicap, said Tioulong Sau­mura, Sam Rainsy’s wife and a newly-elected representative from Phnom Penh. Their party boasts the youngest deputy of all: 31-year-old Hor Sopheap, who captured a seat in Kompong Cham.

“They will bring new blood, fresh blood,” Tioulong Saumura said. If her husband gained a reputation for outspokenness during his time in parliament, she said, then the Assembly had better watch out for his proteges.

“They are the most outspoken Cambodians I’ve ever met,” she said. “They are much more determined to stand by their principles. At least the debate will be more active and maybe we can convince some elders not in our party of our ideas.”

True to Funcinpec’s royalist tradition, four blue-blooded de­pu­ties—Prince Norodom Diyat, Prince Sisowath Sirirath and Princess Norodom Vacheara as well as Prince Norodom Rana­riddh—look set to represent the party in the new Assembly. Ear­lier this year, several lawmakers circulated a petition to exclude royalty from running for public office. The petition failed, but the cost of signing it was high for eight Funcinpec lawmakers, who lost places on the party’s candidate list as a result.

One constituency with little representation in the new Assem­bly is that of women. Of deputies set to join the new parliament, only nine, or 5.7 percent, are wo­men. Four of those are from the CPP, four from Funcin­pec and one from the Sam Rainsy Party.

Chea Vannath, acting director of the Center for Social Deve­lopment, sees a clear economic reason for the paucity of women in parliament. “I think it’s for financial reasons,” she said. “If you want to be a candidate, you need money to campaign and not many women have that.”

Tioulong Saumura, the only woman elected from the Sam Rainsy Party, expressed regret at women’s slim representation. “Of course I’m disappointed. We didn’t think we would do so badly, so we didn’t think to put the women candidates at the top of the list,” she said.





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