Opposition Lawmakers To Boycott Assembly

The opposition CNRP’s 55 lawmakers will boycott this morning’s sitting of the National Assembly and all future sessions until the ruling CPP guarantees their safety and returns to a spirit of parliamentary cooperation, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said on Sunday.

In the space of a month, two CNRP lawmakers were beaten by pro-CPP protesters while leaving the Assembly, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha was ousted as the body’s vice president and Mr. Rainsy was removed from parliament outright after a warrant was issued for his arrest over an old defamation conviction.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy leads a group of CNRP lawmakers out of the National Assembly in November last year. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy leads a group of CNRP lawmakers out of the National Assembly in November last year. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The Assembly will meet today for the first time since October 30, when Mr. Sokha was ousted as the body’s vice president in a legally dubious vote only four days after the two CNRP lawmakers were beaten by a pro-CPP horde that included plainclothes soldiers.

Mr. Rainsy, who is presently in self-imposed exile in France to avoid arrest, said he and Mr. Sokha decided last night that the CNRP could not attend the Assembly under such circumstances. A vote on the draft 2016 national budget is scheduled for today.

“The situation is not normal, so we are not going to do our work as normal. We want to ensure our security and safety…because there is no sign of a serious investigation into the assaults,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“We have not received any assurances [of security], they continue to intimidate and the atmosphere is still tense. So we want the atmosphere to calm down. When it calms down, we can return to our work.”

Only three soldiers have been arrested for the brutal assault on CNRP lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea, which included chest-stomping and kicks to the face. Authorities have refused to reveal which military units the three soldiers come from.

Mr. Rainsy said that the removal of Mr. Sokha as an Assembly leader, which the opposition says is unconstitutional, and his own ouster as a member of parliament two weeks ago also contributed to the decision.

“Given the gravity of the law violations, we are not going to go and play that game. The other side do not take into consideration any of our opinions, and they violate the law. It is not appropriate,” he said.

“When a dialogue is re-established, whereby we received assurances of our safety and some consideration, it will be meaningful cooperation. So far, it has only been unilateral on their part, so it is meaningless for us to attend any National Assembly meetings.”

National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said that today’s sitting would go ahead as usual with or without the CNRP lawmakers, as the CPP’s 68 members of parliament adequately constitute a quorum.

“We will have the meeting as normal,” Mr. Peng Long said. “It is their right and…we will see tomorrow whether they attend or not.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan also said he was not concerned about the CNRP boycotting Assembly sittings, noting that the ruling party easily holds the necessary majority to pass laws in the 123-member body.

“There is no problem because tomorrow the objective of the meeting is to adopt the law on the budget for 2016,” Mr. Eysan said. “If we have the time, we will do one more —the law on telecommunications.”

“The law requires 50 percent plus one…. Therefore, 63 lawmakers is enough, and the CPP has 68, so we are not concerned about it,” the spokesman added.

“They want to put in place a condition that unless there is a political solution, they will not attend the meetings, but this should not be about placing conditions,” he said. “It is their duty as lawmakers [to attend].”

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said the opposition’s delegation of lawmakers will gather at party headquarters this morning to discuss the draft national budget on their own and then hold a press conference.

“The CNRP lawmakers will meet to show our stance regarding the draft law at about 10 a.m. at the headquarters,” Mr. Ponhearith said. “It’s regretful there can be no meeting between the majority and minority voices.”

Kem Ley, a political commentator and founder of the grassroots advocacy group “Khmer for Khmer,” said he believed the CNRP was making the right decision but that Prime Minister Hun Sen would likely remain unfazed, as with previous opposition boycotts.

“Everything is broken right now. The system is moving in the wrong way, so how can they build on this? Meetings of the National Assembly must be fair and democratic, but they are not because the ruling party just does what they want now,” Mr. Ley said.

“The 68 is a quorum. Whether the CNRP goes or does not go, the ruling party will not worry. The CNRP has to find another way. If they only boycott, it will just be the same song as before again,” he said.

Since Mr. Rainsy was last in Cambodia on November 6, he has pursued a campaign to delegitimize Mr. Hun Sen’s government and put pressure on the prime minister to allow him to return freely.

The U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia has said the country may be nearing a “dangerous tipping point,” while the U.S. State Department said that recent political attacks “recall a more authoritarian period in Cambodia’s recent past.”

On Thursday, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for Cambodia to drop the arrest warrant for Mr. Rainsy, with its parliamentarians threatening cuts to some $435 million in European Union aid from 2014 to 2020 if their calls go ignored.

Yet Mr. Rainsy acknowledged on Sunday that the CPP could continue on its own without much trouble.

“They can proceed, knowing that it has returned to a one-party system,” the opposition leader said.

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