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On laws, CNRP in familiar fight

Long beyond the blaze of the campaign trail, the opposition party has continued promising to push its seven-point platform once lawmakers take their National Assembly seats.

But before the CNRP can battle for its $1.5 billion social and economic reform agenda on the assembly floor, it will first have to overturn regulations that, left as standing, would render the party effectively toothless.

In theory, the July 22 deal that ended the political deadlock appears to divvy assembly power between parties, splitting equally the chairmanships of the 10 commissions and electing an opposition vice president to counter the ruling party’s assembly president.

But according to Ou Virak, Cambodian Center for Human Rights, chairman, regulation loopholes rig the system in the ruling party’s favour.

“The president [of the National Assembly] has all the discretionary power, and unless that is changed, it will continue to limit the role of the opposition,” he said.

According to a chapter of assembly regulation long contested by the opposition, while any lawmaker can submit draft legislation to the standing committee, which then forwards it on to the relevant commission, there is no timeline or policy to ensure proposals get forwarded and discussed. And the assembly president, who heads the standing committee, reserves the only veto power.

“We are on our way to making amendments to this,” said CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, adding that he could not divulge the party’s proposed solution as the working group just got under way yesterday.

This isn’t the first time the opposition has lobbied to change the assembly status quo: In 2008, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly promised to give the opposition a larger legislative voice, but later reneged.

But analysts noted that in comparison to the weaker opposition party of 2008, now, with almost half the National Assembly seats, the CNRP constitutes a more serious threat.

“I think there’s a recognition that the legitimacy of [the CPP’s] one-party National Assembly strained credulity in the eyes of the international community,” said Cambodian-American academic Ear Sophal.

And without the CNRP in their seats, the one-party assembly struggles to defend the democratic validity of its laws.

“The CPP cannot act in isolation like before,” Sovann said. “I don’t think the CPP wants to give us anything, but it is the will of the people that the opposition has a voice in the government.”

But even if the parties do agree to new regulations, the chance the CNRP could swing a two-thirds majority of the assembly to their favour is slim.

“While the opposition may not have much hope of passing legislation that the [CPP] opposes, they can play a political game of distinguishing their priorities and policies,” said Carl Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales, adding that the bonuses aren’t all one-sided.

“If the opposition plays its role, the CPP can attempt to demonstrate to the public that the CPP is still dominant but also willing to work with the opposition . . . The international community will continue its support for Cambodia and foreign investors will be relieved that unrest through street demonstrations are likely to end and that a period of relative stability is on the horizon.”

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