The Cambodia National Rescue Party said yesterday it plans to appoint acting president Kem Sokha to replace Sam Rainsy as head of the party’s lawmakers in the National Assembly but said the title of “minority leader” will still belong to Rainsy, who fled to France a year ago.
The party’s intention to appoint Sokha to the role – with lawmakers and party spokespeople Yim Sovann and Yem Ponhearith as deputies – emerged following a meeting of the assembly’s permanent committee, which set the agenda for Wednesday’s plenary session.
The CNRP’s plans, however, sparked confusion about the definition of parliamentary minority leader, a role ostensibly equal in rank to that of the prime minister, and which was pushed for by Rainsy as a political concession following the reconciliation after the 2014 political deal.
Discussing the plans, National Assembly Secretary-General Peng Leng Long said the change would simply make Sokha minority leader in the assembly in place of Rainsy, who was stripped of his lawmaker status last year after the emergence of an old conviction in a case widely seen as politically motivated.
However, the CNRP, seemingly mindful of the power balance within the coalition, said that the title of “minority leader” was, in fact, a different role than head of the MPs in parliament.
“Minority leader for the group, that means the person who represents the party as well as the MPs, whereas the leader of the MP group represents only MPs in the National Assembly,” said Sovann, the spokesman.
Sovann cited Article 48 of the Assembly’s internal regulations in making the distinction, although the article appears to suggest the roles are the same. The article states parties with 5 percent of the seats in the parliament can appoint a leader for its MPs, with two deputies.
However, if a party has at least 25 percent of seats, the leader of its group of MPs becomes a minority leader.
Kem Monovithya, Sokha’s daughter and the CNRP deputy director-general of public affairs, said Sokha would take over Rainsy’s role as head of the CNRP parliamentary group, but also said this didn’t mean he was the new minority leader.
“The minority leader in our context is more of a party to party [role],” Monovithya said, explaining that her father’s ruling party counterpart in his new role was Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who is the current “majority leader” for the CPP.
Taking to Twitter, Rainsy also said he remained in the same position. “As CNRP president, I remain Minority Leader (as specified in National Assembly’s internal rules). My counterpart is Hun Sen.”
Meanwhile, the CPP yesterday held a closed-door meeting for 30 members of its powerful permanent committee, though party spokesman Sok Esyan declined to give details, saying only that the meeting was planned months ago, and was to review a progress report for another upcoming CPP conference.