Sam Rainsy admitted Monday that 10 of his own lawmakers voted in favor of the controversial law passed by parliament last week to limit the free speech of its members, despite the Sam Rainsy Party having officially branded it as unconstitutional.
The controversy over the law, which passed Wednesday, centers on a provision that makes it possible to prosecute legislators who abuse “an individual’s dignity, public order, social customs or national security.” The provision, in Article 5 of the law, allows for lawmakers to be detained immediately—without their immunity being stripped—for undefined “obvious crimes.”
Sam Rainsy claimed that the 10 SRP lawmakers who voted for the law did so due to undefined “inconsistency” and confusion. The party will not discipline them because their mistake to vote for the law was a “mistake in good faith,” he added.
SRP parliamentarian Eng Chhay Eng said he voted for the law even though he didn’t support Article 5. He added that other articles in the law, which gave lawmakers pensions and funeral expenses, were good. He also maintained that Article 5 could be amended later.
SRP lawmaker Cheam Channy revealed Monday that he had voted for the law in part because he hadn’t paid any serious attention to Article 5. He added that he ultimately decided to vote yes because he saw that other SRP members were voting in the law’s favor.
The official count of Wednesday’s vote was 93 lawmakers for the law and one opposed to the law.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said he was the SRP’s no-voter. However, SRP lawmaker Keo Remy also maintained that he was in fact the SRP’s only dissenter.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Kem Sokha said the SRP lawmakers who voted for the law appeared to be more focused on their own personal interests than in serving the country.
“They think of their benefits and not the people,” he said.
Senior CPP lawmaker Ek Sam Ol held a press conference at the National Assembly Monday morning to defend the passage of the law. “The lawmakers voted to support the law in a responsible manner and in the spirit of freedom,” Ek Sam Ol said, adding that the law was not designed to silence lawmakers.
“The law is a tool for the Kingdom of Cambodia to protect the rights, freedom and immunity of lawmakers,” he added. Ek Sam Ol, who is also CPP legislation chairman, said that comments by US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, who last week said that the National Assembly had castrated itself with the legislation, were unacceptable.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said the ambassador stands by his comments.
Ek Sam Ol also noted that both Funcinpec and SRP lawmakers voted for the legislation.