National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Wednesday blamed the Sam Rainsy Party for setting back the cause of democracy in Cambodia by removing a dissident lawmaker from his position and for boycotting the Assembly.
SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang on Thursday defended the party’s actions, but some observers suggest the opposition has done itself no favors by ousting outspoken lawmaker Khem Veasna.
Eng Chhay Eang said firing Khem Veasna was no setback for democracy because a majority of the opposition’s steering committee supported the move. He added that the party was hardly setting a precedent: Funcinpec in 1994 ousted Sam Rainsy, and the CPP in 2003 ousted three of its own lawmakers.
“He can form a party reflecting his ideas,” Eng Chhay Eang said of Khem Veasna.
According to the National Election Committee, election law states that lawmakers must belong to a party to hold office. If a lawmaker is removed from his or her party, he or she is effectively removed from office.
The opposition has responded to critics by saying the law removed Khem Veasna. But to Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, that defense rang hollow. “We should remove this kind of law,” he said. “It is not true to the spirit of the Constitution.”
Thun Saray said he feared the move could have a chilling effect on freedom of speech in Cambodia, especially because the opposition has traditionally set a good example of democratic governance.
“If MPs cannot express their opinions freely,” he said, “how can other people?”
Heav Veasna, managing director of the Center for Social Development, said the move could make the opposition party more vulnerable to criticism from other parties that it is undemocratic, even if the criticism is not well-founded.
But Chea Mony, Free Trade Union leader, said the lawmaker’s ousting was a minor infraction compared to other setbacks to democracy that Cambodia’s suffered. “Since CPP and Funcinpec merged, democracy has vanished,” he said, citing bans on worker protests, land grabs and violence against labor leaders.