Prime Minister Hun Sen launched the new government yesterday, receiving unanimous votes for appointments from an all-ruling-party parliament.
Speaking at the first vote at the National Assembly, Hun Sen downplayed criticisms from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which boycotted Monday’s opening session and has yet to take its seats.
“They said that, because there is a solitary party, our meeting is illegal. But in this building today and yesterday there was not any door locked preventing lawmakers from other parties from joining,” he said. “We cannot become a hostage of anyone; we simply enforce the framework of the constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.”
During a 40-minute session, the 68 Cambodian People’s Party legislators voted in the Assembly’s top brass and approved newly appointed cabinet members.
Heng Samrin was re-elected as National Assembly president, Nguon Nhel re-elected as first deputy president and Khuon Sodary re-elected as second deputy president. All nine parliamentary commission heads also went to ruling party members, but Hun Sen told reporters after the vote that the party was prepared to offer the CNRP four commission chairs, five deputy heads and the positions of first and second deputy National Assembly president.
“The CPP still has the door opened for renegotiation,” he added. “But they must first go take their oath at the Royal Palace.”
The prime minister went on to suggest that a five-hour meeting held between parties last week had seen the opposition more focused on old-fashioned horse trading for power than their publicly stated insistence on an investigation into electoral irregularities.
“They accepted the 68 to 55 result, and accepted Samdech Hun Sen as prime minister.… If at that time we agreed to have [Sam Rainsy] serve as National Assembly president, it is certain that they would have joined the opening session,” he said, adding that it would have been impossible to allow the opposition to hold such a role, as it would lead to a guaranteed deadlock for every vote.
“Where in the world could a minority party be allowed to hold the role of parliament president?”
Asked whether the party had indeed requested such positions, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann would say only that the party had been seeking reformation and justice.
“We want balance to make reformation in order to serve the real nation; we do not want any title, which is contrary to people’s will,” he said. “[We] want effective work; we want real reformation; we want to have mechanisms to guarantee the balance of power in order to find the real justice for people. This is what we want.”
The CNRP spent the past two days in Siem Reap, holding its own oath-taking ceremonies for the 63 candidates it contends won lawmakers positions. Today, the party is set to hold a press conference in order to “denounce the constitutional coup being perpetrated by the CPP, which illegally clings on to power by violating the constitution after manipulating the last July elections and violating the will of the people”.
Cambodian historian David Chandler yesterday called Hun Sen’s statements a savvy move and said the premier was willing to make any concessions that might be considered a positive move.
“I think [Hun Sen] wants to go on record as a peacemaker and that way sort of strip the opposition a little bit; [also] calm people down and keep them off the street,” he said.
“It’s a big step for him [Hun Sen], but it’s not a very big step,” Chandler said, adding that ministry appointments – all of which went to the CPP yesterday – would be a far more valuable concession for the opposition.
“These parliamentary commissions haven’t amounted to anything in recent years, he’s got to give them key [posts],” he continued.
But, Chandler added, despite the lack of real concessions, in many ways the CNRP might be better off by simply calling off the boycott and taking the seats.
“I wish there would be some voices in the CNRP that say they should take the 55 seats.… It’s letting down the voters. It’s like putting a team on the field but not letting them leave the dugout.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH