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Opposition under attack

Senior government officials slammed opposition legislators and warned they may see their pay docked in yesterday’s opening day of the National Assembly – the last session to be convened before the July election sees a likely shake-up of parliament.

National Assembly deputy president Nguon Nhel, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and policymaker Cheam Yeap each took the floor at the start of yesterday’s session and briefly mocked members of the newly formed CNRP before suggesting the legality of their presence was in dispute.

“In cases where a member of a political party asks to resign from that party, the person concerned must lose their status as a lawmaker automatically,” Kheng said. “So that means he is not a member of parliament.”

Refusing to go into detail, Kheng stressed that the Constitution Council could explain.

Nhel said he considered the opposition members in attendance yesterday to be behaving outside the bounds of duty, while Yeap announced he was considering sending a letter asking National Assembly president Heng Samrin to cut their salaries.

“Every elected individual who defects from a political party must automatically resign from its membership,” Yeap explained to the Post after the session’s close. “So, as chairman of the Commission on Economy, Finance, Banking and Audit, I am preparing to issue a letter telling [Assembly president] Heng Samrin to dock the salaries of lawmakers who joined the Cambodia National Rescue Party.”

In October, the CNRP was officially approved by the Interior Ministry. The merger of the opposition Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties came after years of fits and starts. Combined, the party holds 29 seats and, in the past, analysts have predicted a merger of the two could see them land as many as a third of the 123 seats.

Although the party will stand candidates solely under the CNRP banner in July, legislators must remain members of the party to which they were elected or face dismissal under the election law. But that proviso expires six months before elections and, apart from party head Sam Rainsy – whose MP status was stripped in 2011 for convictions widely believed to be politically motivated – no resignations took place before April.

The firestorm at yesterday’s session appears to have been set off by debate over a draft fire prevention law, during which lawmaker Yim Sovann argued that “as a lawmaker of the CNRP”, he wanted to see better protections.

Though the opposition made no efforts to hit back at the CPP, Sovann told reporters briefly after assembly that he was pleased by the reaction. “I’m happy when the CPP fights like this,” he said, adding that – given the six-month proviso – the threats were laughable.

Speaking by phone, Sovann later expounded, saying that the ruling party’s posturing suggested they were truly afraid of losing.  “Previously, lawmakers and senators of the SRP resigned and joined the CPP,” he added. “Have you thought of cutting their salary? You didn’t do anything like this. Are you scared of them?”

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