Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Yim Sovann speaks during a Sam Rainsy Party meeting in 2011. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Continuing a fiery week in parliament, lawmakers from both the opposition and ruling parties took aim at each other yesterday in exchanges that at times descended into mockery and taunting, before nearly unanimously passing the farmers’ co-operative law.
In a session even more colourful than Tuesday’s sitting, when government officials slammed their opponents without provoking a response, opposition lawmakers bit back yesterday when singled out.
When Cambodia National Rescue Party parliamentarian Yim Sovann responded to criticism about his party’s “unrealistic” policies by vowing that his leaders would stand aside if they could not deliver promises after winning July 28’s election, the attacks came from far and wide.
“On behalf of His Excellency Sam Rainsy and His Excellency Kem Sokha, I would like to guarantee to the nation that if they cannot deliver these policies when in government, these excellencies must step down immediately,” Sovann said.
“But those excellencies already have stepped down,” Nguon Nhel, first deputy president of the National Assembly said. “Yet one of them still sits here. Who is he?”
CPP policymaker Cheam Yeap also offered criticism, repeating his claim that SRP lawmakers who joined the CNRP had no right to occupy National Assembly seats and “speak nonsense” about lawmakers.
“His Excellency [Yim Sovann] cannot take the word of Sam Rainsy – he is a convict imprisoned for 12 years,” he said. “[CNRP vice-president] Kem Sokha . . . does not have the right to be in parliament.”
Yeap added that he had sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly president Heng Samrin yesterday – as he threatened to do on Tuesday – asking them to freeze the salaries of lawmakers who had joined the CNRP.
“You must be kicked out, so there are no members of the National Rescue Party here,” he said.
The opposition party later supported the draft law on agricultural community, relating to farmers’ co-operatives, which passed with 80 of a possible 83 votes.
But the opposition’s support of the bill, parts of which it has publicly opposed, did not come before further debate.
Sovann touched on a controversial issue by asking the government to cease granting economic land concessions to private companies.
He also asked the government to pay $100 million – which he suggested drawing from casino revenue – into a fund that would help farmers when rice prices dropped below 1,000 riel per kilogram.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun rejected both of these suggestions.
Koul Panha, executive director of election-monitoring NGO Comfrel, said he expected the opposition to continue focusing on critical debate in parliament because airing its policies in such a forum was a rare way it could make its voice heard on state-controlled television.
“That’s why they will use this time and increase their political tone in parliament. The problem is the ruling party is often in control of the microphone,” he said.
“Critical discussion will happen. It may not always be broadcast – but there will be a lot more of it before the election.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL