Political watchdogs yesterday hit out at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s threat on Tuesday to boot opposition deputy leader Kem Sokha out of the first deputy presidency of parliament.
They accused the premier of overstepping his executive bounds to stifle the legislative body and quash Sokha’s professed efforts to tackle ministerial-level corruption.
But other observers and analysts were quick to point out that pushing for such a dismissal was technically in line with Hun Sen’s rights as an elected parliamentarian.
They added that while there remains no clear legal procedure to remove the National Assembly leadership, the kind of absolute majority vote that the premier floated had become de facto practice and could easily be pushed through by his Cambodian People’s Party.
Sokha earned Tuesday’s rebuke from Hun Sen after claiming on the weekend that he would rally lawmakers to move votes of no confidence against corrupt and long-serving CPP ministers.
Ny Chakrya, head of legal aid and human rights at watchdog Adhoc, said yesterday that Hun Sen was “interfering” in parliament, given that Sokha’s pledge reflected no overstepping of powers granted to lawmakers in the constitution.
“Removing an official should be the role of the National Assembly president [not the PM]. This is an internal issue of the parliament. The government cannot interfere in the parliament, but based on the law, the parliament can watch over the government and summon ministers for questioning,” he said.
But political analyst Kem Ley disagreed that Hun Sen had overstepped his bounds.
“The prime minister can also rally parliamentarians to vote out any leader of parliament who does something wrong,” he said.
“If Hun Sen said this on behalf of the government, he is in the wrong, but if he said this as a parliamentarian, it’s fine.”
Koul Panha, head of election watchdog Comfrel, said that while neither the constitution nor the internal rules of the National Assembly stipulate a procedure to remove parliamentary leadership, officials have long been dismissed with a majority vote.
“The principle is that you are going into the parliament first [through an absolute majority vote], so if you go out, you must go out through the same gate,” he said.
Opposition whip Son Chhay said yesterday that while his party recognised that the CPP could easily remove Sokha, such a move would anger “the public” given that Hun Sen agreed to give the first deputy position to the opposition under a July 22 political deal, and he was its choice.
If the premier was seen to be removing Sokha just because he had declared a war on high-level corruption, that would also incense many Cambodians, Chhay added.
However, senior CPP lawmaker and assembly spokesman Chheang Vun painted it as more black and white than that.
“If he wants to remove [us], [we] have the right to remove him back,” he said.