In a surprise move yesterday, the National Assembly voted down the appointment of top Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers Mu Sochua and Yim Sovann to parliamentary commissions they were expected to head, leading party president Sam Rainsy to call on the ruling party to respect the “spirit” of an agreement brokered on July 22.
That agreement stipulated that the parties would divide leadership positions in the assembly, with the Cambodian People’s Party giving control of five commissions and the parliament’s first deputy presidency to the opposition.
Sochua, a former women’s affairs minister, was the CNRP’s appointed candidate to head the commission on health, social affairs, labour and women’s affairs, while Sovann was the candidate to chair the newly created anti-corruption commission.
Though the text of the July agreement did not specify that parliament must approve any candidate put forward by the CNRP for leadership positions – a fact that a senior CPP lawmaker was quick to point out yesterday – it was widely expected that Sochua and Sovann, both respected and veteran politicians, would be voted in by the absolute majority required.
CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha was voted in as first deputy on Tuesday with the backing of almost all lawmakers, while the three other commission heads nominated by the opposition were also voted in without issue over the past two days.
Sochua received 56 votes for, 63 votes against and three abstentions. Sovann received 56 votes for, 62 votes against and three abstentions, and saw one vote nullified.
The CPP has 68 lawmakers in parliament and the opposition has 55. Prime Minister Hun Sen previously pledged that he would lobby his party’s lawmakers to vote for the opposition’s candidates.
Speaking to reporters following the session, Rainsy would not say whether he believed the CPP had broken its agreement, but insinuated that he believed the ruling party had broken it in spirit.
“For the Cambodia National Rescue Party, we respect the spirit 100 per cent and we insist that the partner party also respect the spirit 100 per cent,” he said. “We regret [what happened] today, but we will urge [the CPP] to find an appropriate resolution. We believe that there will be an appropriate resolution soon.”
Following Sochua and Sovann’s failed candidacies, Hun Sen, Rainsy, Sokha and assembly President Samrin conferred on the floor of parliament about what should happen next. Soon after, the commissions appointed two different CNRP lawmakers, who had already been approved as members, to chair them.
Ho Vann took the reins instead of Sovann, while Keo Sovannaroth (who is married to Sovann) was voted in as chairwoman of the commission targeted by Sochua.
However, Sochua said that the appointments were temporary and only so that the permanent standing committee of parliament could function until a revote to appoint her and Sovann as commission members.
“First, [there will be] a revote for the two candidates [her and Sovann] within the full house [as members], and if we are elected, then each commission will go back to do a revote within” for the chairperson, she said.
Though the CNRP pledged that its 55 lawmakers had voted for Sochua and Sovann, senior CPP lawmaker and assembly spokesman Chheang Vun argued that this could not be known for certain.
“We cannot say 55 lawmakers [of the CNRP] all support them. In their party, there are individuals who are not content with them, too,” he said.
Vun was also adamant that Sochua and Sovann’s failure to become commission heads was not in contravention of the July 22 agreement.
“The agreement did not say that [we] must vote for Yim Sovann or we must vote for Mu Sochua. How does it affect [the agreement]? If the [CNRP] chose a person who did not satisfy [the assembly] and he/she was not voted for, it’s normal.”
The election of other parliamentary leadership positions was completed yesterday in accordance with what the opposition had planned.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith was elected chairman of the commission on education; security chief Long Ry was elected deputy chairman of the commission on interior and national defence, under Hun Sen’s brother Hun Neng; Mao Monyvann was elected deputy chairman of the commission on public works, transport, telecommunications, post, industry, energy and commerce under Nin Saphon; Tioulong Saumura was elected deputy chairwoman of the foreign affairs commission under longtime CPP chair Chheang Vun; and Ou Chanrith was elected deputy chairman of the commission on justice, underneath CPP lawmaker Pen Panha.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH