Parties Meet as Rainsy Calls for Re-Engagement

Following a decision by opposition leader Sam Rainsy for the CNRP to cautiously re-engage with the CPP in parliament rather than carry out a full-blown boycott, senior officials from the parties met at the National Assembly on Thursday for the first time since last month’s political turmoil.

In a Skype conference on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Rainsy told the CNRP’s lawmakers in Phnom Penh that he believed the opposition party would be better served by at least turning up to parliamentary commission meetings, even if they do not participate in them.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng, left, shakes hands with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha before a meeting yesterday at the National Assembly. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Interior Minister Sar Kheng, left, shakes hands with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha before a meeting on Thursday at the National Assembly. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“In the committees, we need to listen but we will not go to take part or support it,” said Mr. Rainsy, who is once again living in France to avoid an arrest warrant in Cambodia. He said decisions on whether to attend future plenary sessions would be made on a case-by-case basis.

“It depends on the topic, and all of us will not join [future Assembly sessions] unless we discuss it and we agreed all together on the draft law,” he said.

The CNRP’s delegation of lawmakers boycotted the passage of three laws in the National Assembly last week in protest of recent attacks on their party, which included the assault of lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea as they left the parliament in late October.

Mr. Rainsy was also stripped of his status as a lawmaker after an arrest warrant was issued for him on November 13 over a seven-year-old defamation case, while deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha was ousted as the parliament’s vice president by CPP lawmakers on October 30.

The CPP seemed unfazed by the CNRP’s boycott, easily passing the three laws—including the 2016 budget and a controversial telecommunications law—with its majority in an extended session that ran from the morning to afternoon.

In his Skype conference on Wednesday, Mr. Rainsy said the CNRP would continue boycotts of plenary sessions if the CPP continues to ignore its role in the Assembly.

“If they do not value us, they do not ask us and they [decide] over us, and they do whatever they want, in cases like this, we will not take part,” Mr. Rainsy said, reiterating that the CNRP should nevertheless try to influence the drafting of laws to improve them.

“We need to ask for the people’s idea and civil society’s ideas, about what they want to add, delete or change, and we will go to meet with these people.”

At the National Assembly on Thursday evening, Mr. Sokha and Interior Minister Sar Kheng led their respective parties in a meeting to discuss upcoming work in the parliament, which is currently in session and preparing to vote on a new Trade Union Law.

Issuing a one-page joint statement, both leaders also spoke briefly with reporters on their way out before referring questions to Interior Ministry Secretary of State Sak Setha and CNRP lawmaker Yim Sovann as spokesmen for the two delegations.

“We discussed the main interests at the present time and in the future, and the strengthening of national reconciliation and national unity. Anything else, our spokesmen can talk about,” Mr. Sokha said.

Mr. Setha, spokesman for the CPP side, said an informal meeting earlier this week had helped smooth the way for Thursday’s 40-minute meeting and the resulting joint statement.

“In fact, leaders from both parties met each other two days ago and through this meeting, they initiated some main points for the meeting,” Mr. Setha said, adding that four main points had been agreed to.

The first point was that a joint-party committee to discuss the draft union law would be created. Secondly, another committee will be established to discuss the new “culture of dialogue,” Mr. Setha said, using the name for the detente that Mr. Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen were actively promoting until Mr. Rainsy’s arrest warrant last month.

Thirdly, Mr. Setha explained, the parties agreed to communicate more effectively. Fourthly, they agreed to resolve future issues in a spirit of national unity and following the principles of democracy, he said.

Mr. Sovann of the CNRP said the party had to meet with the CPP in order to promote the “culture of dialogue,” despite the recent political and physical assaults on the opposition.

“It is involved with the benefits of many hundreds of thousands of garment workers,” he said of the union law. “So we are interested in that law and we will create the working group to discuss it with each other.”

“We do not want to have arguments with each other and we want the situation in politics, the economy and as well as our society to go on smoothly, so we have to meet with each other,” Mr Sovann said.

Mr. Setha said the issue of Mr. Rainsy’s removal from the National Assembly and arrest warrant, and Mr. Sokha’s removal as parliament vice president had not been discussed by Mr. Sokha and Mr. Kheng.

“The meeting that just happened, for this issue of both of them, both leaders did not raise it for discussion,” he said.

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