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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP looks to hit opposition’s pocketbooks for parliamentary boycott

CPP lawmakers attend a session of parliament at the National Assembly in 2013, with the seats on the left vacant after the CNRP boycotted parliament.
CPP lawmakers attend a session of parliament at the National Assembly in 2013, with the seats on the left vacant after the CNRP boycotted parliament. Sreng Meng Srun

CPP looks to hit opposition’s pocketbooks for parliamentary boycott

Lawmakers who boycott meetings of the National Assembly or “insult and look down” on other MPs will have their salaries slashed and may be banned from future parliamentary meetings, according to a proposal made by the ruling CPP yesterday.

The proposal, made during a morning session of the assembly’s permanent committee, pointedly comes as the opposition CNRP considers ending a boycott of the body announced after armed police tried to arrest deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha on May 26.

The CPP’s proposed rules change specifies that lawmakers can only be absent from meetings of the parliament, its permanent committee or its specialist committees with the express permission of National Assembly President Heng Samrin.

“Lawmakers cannot be absent without approval of the president of the National Assembly. The president can allow a National Assembly member to stop for at most 15 days in one session,” the document says.

“To stop for longer than 15 days requires a request for approval from a plenary session of the Assembly,” it adds. “Lawmakers absent for more than five days in a row need a doctors’ note as evidence.”

“Lawmakers who are allowed to stop, and stop for longer than what is approved, must have their National Assembly salary cut for the days they stopped working beyond the permission,” it explains.

For lawmakers who fail to seek permission from Samrin and simply do not turn up when called, officials are instructed to “kick them out of meetings for 15 days” at first – and then for one month, if they still continue to “do wrong”.

It also says that “lawmakers who insult or look down, or create disputes, or threaten other lawmakers” will have their monthly salary cut by 50 percent, and have announcements of their errors posted in each commune of the province in which they were elected.

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith, who attended the permanent committee meeting, said after the meeting that his party would oppose the new rules, pointing out that the assembly already had a complete set of its own internal regulations.

“There’s no need for any decision to add to the internal regulation that already states [the rules],” Ponhearith said, declining to comment on whether the CNRP would maintain its boycott or attend next month’s plenary sessions.

“We cannot say whether we will participate in the meeting or not. We will wait and see,” he explained. “Our policy is to resolve [the situation] in a peaceful and nonviolent way through the culture of dialogue that we had successfully implemented.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday left little doubt who the rules were directed towards, saying that the assembly’s internal regulations were created during a different time, and that the CNRP’s months of refusals to turn up in parliament required a new approach.

“The old regulations do not fit with the new situation,” Eysan said. “These regulations are to catch the bad people, and we have seen that the old regulations were never faced with these issues.”

“After we faced these issues, and could not solve them, we had to amend it in order to fit the new situation, and to make the National Assembly have clear discipline and full respect,” he said.

But Koul Panha, director of election watchdog Comfrel, said that lawmakers had the right to boycott parliament if they were unhappy with how it was being run, adding that he feared the penalties for “insulting or looking down” could be misused.

“How can you ask the National Assembly president [for permission] to boycott? It is a political right of the members of the parliament if they are unhappy with a particular decision,” Panha said. “How can criticism lead to cutting salary? Members of parliament are always blaming each other and criticising each other.

“It’s ridiculous. Their role is to speak and criticise each other, and maybe to make you unhappy.”

Yesterday’s permanent committee meeting also ruled that CNRP lawmakers Pin Ratana and Tok Vanchan cannot be prosecuted given their immunity, and forwarded a raft of judicial law reforms proposed by CNRP lawmakers to the parliament’s legislative committee.

Ratana and Vanchan have been accused in the “prostitution” case involving CNRP acting president Sokha, but the committee said they cannot be prosecuted because they were not caught red-handed in a crime.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, meanwhile, is seeking to have the justice minister removed from the Supreme Council of the Magistracy – the body that oversees the judiciary – to ensure judicial independence, and also to ban judges and prosecutors from joining political parties.

The proposed changes to controversial judicial laws passed by the CPP in 2014 have already been rejected by the ruling party this year, but Chhay said he was more hopeful of having a fair hearing this time. “It has been forwarded to the committee, so it seems they are taking it more seriously,” he said.

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