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Rainsy on the assembly skids

A full vote of the National Assembly is likely to have to be held on any bid to

oust maverick Funcinpec MP Sam Rainsy from his seat, politicians and legal

observers say.

There is no provision for expulsion of MPs in the

constitution or the United Nations electoral law in Cambodia, so a vote is

widely seen as the only way to put any legitimacy at all on such a

move.

An attempt to expel Rainsy is widely expected among the party's

MPs, but is predicted to take some time.

"I'm 80 percent sure about

Rainsy losing his seat," said one MP, who would not be named. "The process is

going in that direction."

He believed a vote of the National Assembly,

but not necessarily of a two-thirds majority, would be needed to justify the

expulsion.

But he said that, before such a vote could be held, the

National Assembly's permanent committee would have to decide on an agenda to put

Rainsy's position up for debate by MPs.

"It takes time to draft a

strategy to expel Rainsy, otherwise there will be a big explosion," he said

without elaborating.

Rainsy earlier this month went public with

complaints that Funcinpec's leadership was plotting to have him expelled from

the National Assembly.

He said Funcinpec president Prince Norodom

Ranariddh had written to National Assembly Chairman Chea Sim about the

matter.

Funcinpec and parliament sources were unable to confirm the

existence of the letter last week. Chea Sim is overseas, as is Funcinpec

Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh.

But Funcinpec MPs believe

Rainsy's relations with the party leadership, most particularly Ranariddh, are

beyond repair and an expulsion bid is almost certain.

"There cannot be

any compromise between Prince Ranariddh and Rainsy. Their differences have

reached a saturation point," said one MP.

"We all play the game of

democracy. But Rainsy is driving a sports car, while the rest are still using

motor-taxis," said another.

Sources said that even some Cambodian

People's Party (CPP) MPs were sympathizers of Rainsy's, but considered that his

outspoken methods went too far.

Rainsy - who has been a constant critic

of government policy even while he was Minister of Finance - is considered by

some to have gone too far with his recent decision to sue Ranariddh for comments

made in France.

One MP believed that Funcinpec had ample pretexts to

remove Rainsy from the assembly.

"The people voted for the party, but

not for me. The candidacy of an MP was proposed by the party. If they want to

send him [Rainsy] out of this building, they can find all excuses to do so.

Nothing is impossible," he said.

Legal observers, however, maintain there

is no lawful basis for expelling MPs. The UN electoral law provides for only

three ways for an MP to be replaced - if the person resigns, dies or is

physically or mentally incapacitated.

Rainsy's charges that any bid to

remove him would be illegal appeared to get support this month from the chief

author of the UN electoral law, former British MP Reginald Austin.

In a

reply to an open letter by Rainsy to foreign officials and diplomats, Austin

wrote that any bid to expel the MP from the assembly would be "dreadfully

serious".

"I feel sure that in light of a proper consideration of the

real long term advantages of open democracy, there will be no unlawful or

unconstitutional action against you, or any other elected member of this

historic Assembly," Austin wrote.

Some observers, however, say the

majority of MPs would vote in favor of Rainsy's expulsion if told to - even if

they did not personally support it.

"If it came to a raising of hands and

Ranariddh, [CPP leader] Hun Sen and Chea Sim want him out, which they do, MPs

will raise their hands," said one close observer of the National Assembly.

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