Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy continued to take a conciliatory approach towards the ruling Cambodian People’s Party yesterday. This despite the fact that on Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for seven of his immunity-protected lawmakers to be speedily convicted for leading an insurrection and other alleged crimes.
The charges stem from a July 15 Cambodia National Rescue Party-led protest at Freedom Park, at which demonstrators attacked district security guards.
Though the seven were detained for several days, they were released hours after a political agreement on July 22 that saw the CNRP end its National Assembly boycott. The deal did not, however, specify that the charges would be dropped.
After a meeting with UN rights envoy Surya Subedi at the National Assembly yesterday, Rainsy was laconic on the premier’s remarks. He had previously said he wanted to “defuse the tension” between the parties.
“I think that [Hun Sen] spoke clearly about this. What he said is enough, I do not need to add anything to his words,” Rainsy told reporters yesterday, adding that his party fully respected the July 22 agreement and the law.
After his meeting with Subedi, Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha met with National Assembly president and CPP chairman Heng Samrin for almost an hour.
Despite speculation that the meeting related to the lawmakers’ case, it later emerged that Samrin had signed off on rule changes formally recognising Rainsy as minority leader in the assembly, a post he negotiated with Hun Sen in late November.
Subedi, meanwhile, who is on his last official mission to the Kingdom, said he was optimistic about the changes seen in Cambodia during his six-year term and declined to comment on the premier’s words.
“I’m not in a position to comment on each and every statement made … whether [it’s] the prime minister or other people within the country, but what I can see [is that] the spirit of cooperation, the spirit of dialogue in the greater interest of the people of this country seems [like it will] continue for some time to come,” he said.
Subedi added, however, that he hoped “nobody will do anything that will derail” ongoing reforms.
Although the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers were sworn in to parliament in August, Hun Sen said Monday that parliamentary immunity gained by the seven should not apply retroactively to the charges.
This is despite him previously acknowledging in November that the lawmakers were covered by immunity for them.
The constitution states that no MP should be “prosecuted, detained or arrested because of opinions expressed during the exercise of his (her) duties” and that immunity can only be lifted by a two-thirds majority vote in the Assembly, which the CPP does not have.
But unresolved questions over when an elected lawmaker officially becomes an MP and at what stage immunity is gained have both parties now arguing the most politically beneficial interpretation.
“The question is whether [those lawmakers] can gain immunity to protect themselves [against past alleged crimes],” said Chheang Vun, a senior CPP lawmaker, who argues that the seven did not enjoy immunity on July 15.
“Our law does not state this, but for me, [the law] cannot be retroactive. So the court has the right to invite them for questioning at any time. And if the court finds them guilty, according to the constitution if the offence is criminal, they will lose immunity automatically.”
But Son Chhay, the CNRP’s whip, said that regardless of whether the CNRP politicians did or did not have immunity when the alleged acts took place (the party had argued they did at the time) the swearing-in had happened without protest from the ruling party or the National Election Committee.
“You can’t say later it’s illegal if you ignored it [previously].… You cannot just come up with new ideas [after the fact],” Chhay said.
“Either way … the CPP has no position to harm us whatsoever nowadays when we are full members of parliament.”
Political commentator Ou Virak said he agreed that they were now protected.
“They could leave the charges hanging, but they have to let the immunity run out.”
Despite Hun Sen making his views on the issue well-known, both Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan and Heng Samrin yesterday repeated that the case was solely a matter for the judiciary to decide.