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Nearly half of the National Assembly’s seats remain vacant during the first meeting of the newly formed government in Phnom Penh in September
Nearly half of the National Assembly’s seats remain vacant during the first meeting of the newly formed government in Phnom Penh in September. Heng Chivoan

Rule hanging over NA

A ruling party lawmaker and parliamentary spokesman said yesterday that the National Assembly will consider invoking an internal rule that could force the opposition party to replace its elected lawmakers with lower-ranked candidates from within the party if their boycott continues beyond a deadline.

Principle 83 of the assembly’s internal regulations states that “the seat of an MP left vacant because of resignation [or] abandonment of work for three months without permission . . . must be replaced by a new MP chosen from the list of candidates representing the party in the same constituency.”

But analysts and the Cambodia National Rescue Party said yesterday that the grounds for invoking such a rule remained murky – and even if it was applied, the CNRP would remain in full control over their seats and whether they are filled.

National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun said yesterday that the assembly was well aware of the internal rule but would not publicly discuss using it until the three-month deadline is reached on December 23.

“In the assembly, we have considered internal regulations on this case. If the deadline reaches, we will talk about [Principle 83]. There will be a decision made by the Permanent Committee,” he said, adding that there was time yet for the parties to compromise.

“If we talk about this now, there will be much controversy, so we avoid it . . . [But] if they still don’t take their seats, we will follow existing regulations,” he added.

CNRP whip Son Chhay said his party was aware of the rule but denied that it applied to their lawmakers.

“We are aware of that provision, but that is only talking about the official MPs who have sworn in and have become full MPs. The CNRP MPs have not sworn in and so we are not MPs [officially],” he said.

Chhay said if the ruling party-controlled assembly still invoked the rule regardless of this argument, the CNRP would not be worried.

“What can they do? The procedures would mean that the party leader would send a replacement [list] to the NEC. The CPP would not have any role to play. There is no way the CPP could use that as
a threat to us,” he continued.

A number of lawyers and legal analysts – some of whom requested anonymity – yesterday backed the CNRP’s interpretation that they could not be considered having “abandoned” their work without having been sworn-in in the first place.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that although he didn’t buy the argument that the CNRP lawmakers weren’t yet “MPs”, the rule’s invocation would have little effect.

“I think in this case it’s pretty clear that the party still has the power . . . the party’s leadership can [later] replace any junior MP with a senior MP whenever they want. [Internal party conflict] is never going to be a problem.”

Koul Panha, director at election watchdog Comfrel, said that even if the rule were used, the opposition party could refuse to nominate replacement lawmakers.

“It will become a crisis and [the assembly] will take all the seats and send them to the NEC to recalculate,” he said. “But the problem is there is no procedure for the NEC to remove a candidate from the list . . . it depends on the political parties.”

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