A “shadow cabinet” will be created inside the National Assembly once the CNRP’s lawmakers-elect swear into office, senior opposition party officials said Thursday, in a move that nine years ago saw an opposition lawmaker imprisoned on charges of inciting a rebellion.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy forged a deal on Tuesday for the CNRP to enter the National Assembly after the party’s 10-month boycott of its 55 parliamentary seats over accusations that the July 2013 national election was rigged.
Several CPP officials said earlier this week that they believed the swearing-in would take place today but CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Thursday that details remained to be worked out over how a new election commission will be encoded in the Constitution.
But when they are sworn in, the party’s unprecedented numbers as a parliamentary opposition will allow it to create an alternate Council of Ministers, said CNRP chief whip Son Chhay.
“There’s never been such an opposition to help the country before. They [the CPP] have rejected our request to create a shadow cabinet but we are going to create it anyway,” said Mr. Chhay, who is also a lawmaker-elect. “In a lot of countries, even if it is not written into the law, they still do it.”
Mr. Chhay said that the CNRP would not create a new shadow minister for each government minister, but would give a select group of CNRP officials the responsibilities of several ministers.
“We won’t have the 20 ministries they have now; Cambodia only needs about 11 ministries,” Mr. Chhay explained.
“We will put together the ministries that have similar responsibilities. For example, we don’t need the Ministry of Water Resources when it can be a department in the Ministry of Agriculture, and commerce ought to be together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
Mr. Rainsy confirmed that the CNRP planned to create such a shadow cabinet in the assembly but said that it was not a priority.
“We want the opposition to be recognized as in the British system, as ‘Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition,’ with the status of the opposition enshrined [in] the Constitution,” the opposition leader said.
“This implies forming a shadow cabinet,” he added.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the creation of such a shadow cabinet was not his business and was a matter for the ruling and opposition lawmakers to determine together.
“For the time being, I will not manipulate anything. Let them sit in the National Assembly and decide what to do,” Mr. Siphan said.
“The wishes of Son Chhay and his party are their wishes. If it is the common desire of the National Assembly, let them do it.”
But CPP spokesman and lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that such an alternate Council of Ministers would not be allowed to be formed.
“I want to inform the public that there are no laws in Cambodia allowing for there to be a shadow government. There has never been a shadow Council of Ministers in existence in Cambodia,” he said.
“Indeed, there is such a shadow government in England, where they apply the Anglo-Saxon government system, but we follow the French system, which has no laws allowing a shadow government.”
Mr. Yeap emphasized that such a body would be illegal.
“If Son Chhay just said this verbally, then it is OK. But if it is really created, it is illegal. The opposition needs to read the laws.”
In July 2004, Mr. Hun Sen accused Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy of planning a revolt by assembling a “shadow army” after he was named as head of the opposition party’s “Defense, Veteran’s Affairs, Demobilization and Public Security Committee.”
The committee was one of 14 created by Mr. Rainsy’s party to monitor and respond to their equivalent government ministries. The government stripped Mr. Channy of his parliamentary immunity in 2005 and he served almost a year of a seven-year prison sentence.
CNRP public affairs chief Mu Sochua, who previously served in the Council of Ministers as the women’s affairs minister and is now an opposition lawmaker-elect for Battambang province, said that the party’s shadow ministers would be protected from charges this time.
“The procedures will be different from last time. To remove the immunity of parliamentarians, you need two-thirds of the vote, and that means 82 votes, and no one has that 82,” Ms. Sochua said.
The CPP officially won 68 seats in last year’s election.
“That is a guarantee that our parliamentarians cannot be threatened with the lifting of his or her parliamentary immunity when he or she is fulfilling his or her role as a parliamentarian,” she said.
“It will not be like Cheam Channy, that is for sure.”
Ms. Sochua said the decision on who would take the various portfolios in the shadow cabinet would be decided by the opposition’s executive committee. Mr. Rainsy said there was no rush to decide.
With the CPP having ruled the country for the past 35 years, there are few CNRP lawmakers with direct ministerial experience.
Mr. Rainsy served as finance minister for Funcinpec between 1993 and 1994 and Ms. Sochua served as women’s affairs minister for the royalist party from 1998 to 2004 before joining the opposition.
Long Botta, a CNRP lawmaker-elect for Battambang province, served as education secretary and then as culture minister under Lon Nol’s various governments in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Pen Sovann, who will represent Kompong Speu province, was the first prime minister of the Vietnamese-installed regime that ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979. He was purged in 1981 and sent to Hanoi.
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