Violating the Constitution while following through on a threat from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the National Assembly’s CPP-staffed secretariat on Thursday issued an order saying that ministers would not appear before lawmakers unless the CNRP stopped boycotting parliamentary sessions.
Though ruling party lawmakers have pushed through rules that could see their colleagues fined for skipping sessions, they are not legally required to attend. The Constitution states without qualification that lawmakers may summon ministers to “give clarifications on issues relating to his/her responsibility.”
Disregarding this provision, Mr. Hun Sen told a state mouthpiece on Wednesday that he would not allow his ministers to heed summonses from opposition-led parliamentary committees in response to the CNRP boycotting a session of parliament that stripped the party of its official “minority” status.
The National Assembly’s directive formalized the prime minister’s remarks.
“To ensure equity between political parties with seats at the National Assembly, in the case that lawmakers from nongovernmental political parties do not implement their work at the National Assembly as usual, the National Assembly decides to temporarily postpone sending requests inviting ministers of the Royal Government of Cambodia to give clarification before the commissions at the National Assembly,” it said.
The statement cited Article 31 of the Constitution, which includes sweeping language about the equality of all citizens under the law. National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long explained that the CNRP was abusing its right to summon ministers.
“It is not a violation [of the Constitution] as we are just temporarily postponing it,” he said. “It means there is no balance as the opposition party does not come to work at the National Assembly and they just repeatedly attack the government, so the government has no means to respond.”
“In brief, I mean the CNRP has violated laws. For example, if they want to come, they do so. If they don’t want to come, they don’t,” he added.
Asked which law required lawmakers to attend parliamentary sessions or work from the National Assembly, Mr. Peng Long said: “People vote for them to come and work at the National Assembly, not to stay outside.”
CNRP spokesmen could not be reached on Thursday. Opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said on Wednesday that the party planned to press ahead with plans to summon three ministers for questioning before the parliamentary committees they control.
Among them is Defense Minister Tea Banh, whom they want to question about promotions, particularly those of three members of the Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit who served jail time for brutally beating two opposition lawmakers.
Following a speech at the National Defense University on Thursday, General Banh said that he would not be answering questions from lawmakers.
“I say no. We work with respect. If they do not respect the law, it should not happen,” he said of the questioning.
Regarding the bodyguards, Gen. Banh said that their crimes were not his business.
“I did not know they were imprisoned,” he said of the bodyguards, who each received promotions shortly after their release in November. “But I just saw that they were free already—they were not in jail—so the prison problem is the court’s discretion.”