The National Assembly’s Standing Committee yesterday deferred a decision on whether to strip immunity from two CNRP lawmakers, instead sending the matter to a parliamentary committee for consideration, with a CPP lawmaker reiterating that any eventual move would require a two-thirds vote of parliament.
The two lawmakers – Tok Vanchan and Pin Ratana – are under investigation for “procurement of prostitution” in relation to CNRP acting president Kem Sokha’s alleged sex scandal. The Justice Ministry requested the National Assembly lift the lawmakers’ immunity on July 1, so the case could proceed.
At a meeting yesterday, the committee decided that the Sixth Commission on Legislation and Justice would examine the request and report back to the committee. No timeframe was set.
After the meeting, CPP lawmaker and committee member Cheang Vun reiterated that he believed Article 80 of the constitution required a two-thirds vote to lift a lawmaker’s immunity.
“I still say once again, that lifting immunity, however wrong they [the lawmakers] are, needs a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, because their cases are not red-handed offences,” Vun said.
The Ministry of Justice seemingly concurred with that position in asking for an assembly vote in the first place, conceding in a letter to Assembly President Heng Samrin last month that the case against the lawmakers was “not a red-handed crime”.
Article 80 of the constitution states parliamentary immunity can be lifted only with a two-thirds vote, unless the perpetrator of a crime was caught in flagrante delicto, or red-handed.
While the CNRP boycotted a National Assembly vote in May that cited that clause in allowing prosecutors to continue investigating Sokha for ignoring summonses, CNRP lawmakers Eng Chhay Eang and Yem Ponhearith attended yesterday’s meeting to make the case for their colleagues.
Ponhearith said both sides agreed to send the matter to the commission for examination. “On this point, we debated and gave ideas to each other and we have agreed together to ask the sixth commission to study this,” Ponhearith said.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said the committee had directed the general secretariat to send the Justice Ministry a letter stating that parliament could not hold a session to vote on lifting immunity any time soon because they were on break.
The committee also debated two other points – the lifting of CNRP leader Sam Rainsy’s lawmaker status last November and the use of a majority vote to lift immunity in the flagrant delicto cases.
The CNRP, in a letter dated July 6, demanded that the National Assembly and National Election Committee explain why Rainsy was allowed to join parliament in 2014 if there was a prior conviction against him – a defamation case brought on by Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong.
Peng Long said the decision to reinstate Rainsy was taken by the NEC and the decision to disqualify him was based on a Justice Ministry letter, so the National Assembly was only following directions from the two institutions.