Opposition Ends Boycott Of National Assembly

The CNRP said on Thursday it would end its monthslong boycott of the National Assembly by joining today’s session, despite no signs of the “comprehensive solution to the current political crisis” it had sought as a condition for its return.

After days of publicly equivocating about whether the party would resume its role as Cambodia’s official opposition at the Assembly, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said on Thursday that they had finally made up their minds.

“The agenda of the meeting tomorrow benefits the people of the country, so we will attend the meeting,” he said.

The agenda includes proposed legislation covering health professionals, several draft laws dealing with Asean, and a request that the national auditor-general be reappointed for another five years. The CNRP has been avoiding the Assembly’s plenary sessions since May to protest a court case brought against deputy party leader Kem Sokha and the government’s general disregard for the legal immunity of its lawmakers.

Even on Thursday, however, Mr. Chhay Eang sought to give the CNRP a possible out of the session. He said the party might still opt not to join in case of a sudden surge in “political tensions.”

“If there are no political tensions, we will attend the meeting of the National Assembly tomorrow,” he said. “In principle, we will join the meeting.”

Mr. Chhay Eang said the potential source of those tensions would be a protest expected to greet Hun Manet, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, during a trip to Melbourne today. Radio Free Asia ran a story on Wednesday with Australian lawmaker Hong Lim, who was born in Cambodia, saying the local Cambodian community would protest the visit. Mr. Chhay Eang said he feared the protest in Australia would spark an anti-opposition demonstration in Cambodia.

Mr. Lim did not reply to a request for comment.

Barring any surprises, though, the CNRP has vowed to retake its National Assembly seats without any signs of the “comprehensive solution” party president Sam Rainsy said last month would be required to break the boycott.

Mr. Rainsy remains in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year prison sentence. His deputy, Mr. Sokha, remains holed up at the party headquarters in Phnom Penh for fear of arrest over a conviction of his own. Eighteen other CNRP figures and a number of activists and human rights officers are still in jail over cases widely seen as politically motivated.

The CPP has secured the release of prisoners for the sake of past detentes with the opposition, though it has vowed not to do so this time around.

On Thursday, Mr. Chhay Eang gave no indication that any fresh concessions from the CPP had been secured.

“We hope we will solve the problem together,” he said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan also said on Thursday that there was “no political deal.”

Mr. Rainsy said he had left the final decision on how and when to rejoin the Assembly to party officials in Phnom Penh and that there were pros and cons either way.

“Among the pros is our desire to reduce the political tension and to secure the release of political prisoners,” he said in an email.

“Among the cons—especially when there is no sign of good will in return from the other side—is the need to show the whole world that Cambodia has in fact returned to a communist-style one-party system, which is a blatant violation of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements that compel our country to follow a ‘system of liberal and pluralist democracy.’”

In 2014, the CNRP called off a yearlong Assembly boycott that started in protest over the disputed results of the previous year’s national elections. On that occasion, it won an overhaul of the National Election Committee, changes to the election law and the release of lawmakers who were being detained at the time.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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