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Assembly now invalid: opposition

2 Son Chay and Kem sokha

A decision to strip all opposition and two royalist lawmakers of their parliamentary status and salaries is an unconstitutional move that has by default dissolved the National Assembly, Cambodia National Rescue Party parliamentarians said yesterday.

On Wednesday, the 12-member National Assembly permanent committee – comprising solely of ruling party legislators – barred 24 Sam Rainsy Party, three Human Rights Party and two Norodom Ranariddh Party lawmakers from political debates, including today’s Khmer Rouge crimes-denial law discussion, and froze their salaries.

In a joint statement, the SRP and the HRP said the National Assembly permanent committee’s decision to ban its lawmakers had rendered the parliament invalid.

“According to Article 76 of the Constitution, the National Assembly must have at least 120 members,” the statement says. “If the number of lawmakers is less than the number spelled out in the Constitution, this will lead to the National Assembly being dissolved before the mandate.”

Ruling Cambodian People’s Party legislators mocked their SRP and HRP counterparts last month in parliament, claiming their presence was illegal due to the fact they had resigned from those parties to join the CNRP, a merger formed of the two parties.

On Wednesday, they took it a step further.

“We have not fired them – they have fired themselves,” CPP policymaker Chheang Vun said yesterday. “They have to look at the Constitution and the law on political parties, which says lawmakers who become members of a new political party are automatically no longer members of the National Assembly. It’s about the law.”

But banned opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said no such law existed and he had written to National Assembly President Heng Samrin after the CPP’s demand that their salaries be docked last month to explain just that.

“The National Assembly will lose its functionality,” he said. “The country will be in a constitutional crisis.”

Legal experts yesterday were also concerned over the potential unconstitutionality of the move.

“When they shift or change their party [like this], it shouldn’t affect them. The spirit of the Constitution is that you can’t dismiss lawmakers easily,” said Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel.

“As a citizen, it’s legitimacy that is more important – we need to have laws, but the assumption with that is that the text of the law is proper. To me [this decision] is illegitimate,” echoed CLEC executive director Yeng Virak.

Analysts have similar concerns over the legitimacy of laws passed with only the ruling party overseeing them, the first of which is expected to go through today when lawmakers consider the hastily drafted genocide denial law.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said decisions made by the National Assembly in this climate would now have a “weaker moral authority”.

“Without the participation of all parties, it is weaker,” he said. “Actually, [any law passed] would not be much different from a sub-decree. The parliament would not be a legislator, just a government assembly.”

By merely making the controversial decision to strip lawmakers of their posts, meanwhile, the ruling party has some questioning the legitimacy of the government institutions themselves.

“They are not politically independent. From the court to the Constitutional Council, we should have someone independent to interpret the spirit of [these laws]. If people can’t trust in the interpretation, what happens?” asked Comfrel’s Panha.

Development agencies and foreign governments alike have long expressed concern over ruling party dominance on decision-making councils ranging from the National Election Committee to the courts. The US Embassy said yesterday it is looking into the matter.

The CNRP, for its part, said it would lodge a complaint with the Constitutional Council but could “predict the outcome, because it is government-controlled”.

Equally predictable is that today’s controversial vote will be a smooth one, with opposition members saying they will not attend and the government’s coalition partner, Funcinpec, implying it has no intention to fight the permanent committee’s decision.

“I lost two NRP seats, but what can we do?” said Funcinpec general secretary Nhek Bunchhay. “This is about the law.”

Additional reporting by Khouth Sophak Chakrya, Kevin Ponniah and Abby Seiff

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