Opposition Starts National Assembly Boycott

Opposition parliamentarians began a boycott Wednesday aimed at shutting down the National Assembly until the government agrees to negotiations on upcoming elections, lawmakers said.

Only 41 Assembly members appeared for Wednesday morning’s scheduled session; 84 were needed to meet quorum. But it was difficult to tell how many were boycotting and how many were attending Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s peace ceremony at the Olympic Stadium.

Outspoken lawmaker Son Chhay claimed the boycott has the 37 supporters it needs to deny the 120-member Assembly the seven-tenths quorum required to conduct business.

“We know that the National Assembly no longer plays a role in helping the interests of the nation. It seems to be serving the ruling party,” he said. “We will not allow the Assembly to meet just to be a rubber stamp.”

He said 30 Funcinpec parliamentarians would support the boycott, as well as the five BLDP-Son Sann representatives and former Funcinpec “renegade” Ros Hean. The 37th would be Prince Norodom Sirivudh, who lives in exile in France.

However, Ros Hean denied Wednesday he would participate in the attempted shutdown.

“I never declared that I would join in the boycott,” he said.

The boycott supporters will demand that ballots in the election be counted at provincial capitals instead of at polling stations, Son Chhay said. An amendment that would have moved the ballot count failed last week.

Boycotters also will demand a review of the National Election Committee’s neutrality and that the Assembly’s three representatives on the Constitutional Council be neutral, Son Chhay said.

The parliament is scheduled to meet this week to name the final three members of the Constitutional Council, the legal body that is to have the final say on any electoral disputes. “If the Assembly cannot meet, there can be no elections,” Son Chhay said.

Funcinpec parliamentarian Kan Mann confirmed Wednesday he supported the boycott. “So far, we see the government is dominating the electoral process, so we will boycott,” he said.

However, National Assembly President Chea Sim’s private secretary, Um Sarith, said he did not think Son Chhay could muster enough supporters to keep the parliament from meeting.

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