The opposition will boycott a vote today expected to scrap their standing as the National Assembly’s “minority” party, with some members decrying the “affront” to the institution and one saying its loss may actually help the party’s cause with voters.
Following orders from Prime Minister Hun Sen, lawmakers from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party are expected this morning to approve a rewriting of Article 48 of the assembly’s internal regulations.
Speaking yesterday, CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said his colleagues had agreed to boycott the vote, which can be passed by a simple CPP majority regardless of their presence.
“We have decided just now that we will not attend the National Assembly session,” Chhay said, adding the party would instead hold a press conference at its headquarters.
“We do not support this amendment.”
The CPP’s change will scrap the US-style “minority leader” position agreed to by the parties as part of a 2014 deal to end the post-2013 election political deadlock, and intended as a way to formalise dialogue between the rival groups.
The position, ostensibly equal in rank to the premier, passed from Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy to his deputy Kem Sokha in December, when the latter’s conviction in a case widely considered politically motivated was cleared by a royal pardon.
Hun Sen initially endorsed the CNRP deputy for the role which some observers saw as further marginalising the exiled Rainsy – though this month called for the article to be amended because of the CNRP’s efforts to free prisoners jailed on charges related to Sokha’s case.
Speaking yesterday, CPP spokesman Sok Esyan said the party was within its rights to amend the code.
“If the CNRP boycotts, that is their business,” he said.
However, CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said the decision was an “affront” to the parliament, saying the “minority and majority” roles were important to the institution.
“It is fundamental for a free country that is strongly built on democratic principles. It’s not about Kem Sokha, or Sar Kheng or Sam Rainsy or anybody, it’s about an institution,” Sochua said, referring to the Interior Minister Kheng, who is the CPP’s “majority” leader.
Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy director of public affairs and Sokha’s eldest daughter, said that the proposed amendment weakened the parliament and showed “the CPP does not respect any agreement”.
However, she said it would “not affect” the party’s preparations for the June commune elections, with her father continuing his tour of the provinces and arriving today in Kampong Cham province to meet CNRP officials and activists.
Speaking yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Keo Phirum, said he thought that far from damaging the opposition in any way, the move reflected poorly on the CPP, and would play into their strategy of keeping a low profile and allowing the ruling party to make mistakes.
“We know what their goal is and we know what our goal is,” he said.
“The public can judge this for themselves.”
Likewise, a veteran observer, who wished to remain anonymous, called the CPP’s ploy “counterproductive”.
“When the CNRP got the status of minority in the National Assembly, what did they get actually? I didn’t see anything that big or that would be appreciated by their supporters or voters,” he said.
“But as far as the CPP is concerned, I think the fact they have decided to take it away, it will be judged by the public as another trick to control the CNRP; overall, the negative impact will be on CPP rather than on CNRP.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON