Addressing a crowd of lawmakers, supporters and monks at opposition headquarters yesterday, CNRP acting president Kem Sokha demanded that the immunity accorded to Cambodian lawmakers be respected, as Prime Minister Hun Sen, in a speech some 200 kilometres away, denied the existence of a political crisis in the country.
The embattled Cambodia National Rescue Party leader, who has been holed up in the headquarters since May 26 following an attempt by the police to arrest him, urged party supporters attending a Buddhist ceremony at the headquarters to continue their struggle for justice and reiterated the party’s stand to address the current crisis in a nonviolent fashion.
“The reason for holding the Buddhist ceremony today is to affirm the political way of [the CNRP], which is to stick persistently to a nonviolent political platform,” Sokha said to a crowd gathered within the party’s compound.
The opposition leader has ignored three court summonses related to an alleged sex scandal and is scheduled to appear in court again on June 14.
Despite widespread warnings from local observers and foreign diplomats alike that the country’s political situation is reaching a dangerous point, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday dismissed claims that the Kingdom was gripped by a political crisis, instead calling the Kem Sokha ordeal an individual matter.
Speaking at Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, and without referring to Sokha by name, Hun Sen said his responsibility was to maintain peace and stability to boost economic development, and he wouldn’t allow “a poisonous snake to destroy our hard-won peace”.
“Cambodia today is not in a crisis, and the person who talks about this crisis, which is an individual matter – I am not taking responsibility for that,” Hun Sen said.
The remarks, however, seemed to contradict a speech he made on Monday, in which he also obliquely referred to Sokha, and accused him of “[making] noise, which is a shame and once again causes a political crisis”.
The premier also reiterated that he would be the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2018 elections and asked citizens to refrain from any activities that would cause social unrest.
Reacting to Sokha’s comments on parliamentary immunity, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan maintained that there had been no abuse of the privilege and the CNRP’s allegations were contrary to the facts.
“When court makes a decision, the winner will say ‘bravo’, and that the court is very just,” Eysan said. “The loser will say it is very unjust.”
Other recent arrests of lawmakers have been justified using a constitutional loophole that allows for a lawmaker to be detained if he or she is caught in the act of committing a crime – a reading some have maintained misrepresents the spirit of the law.
Last week the National Assembly voted to allow Sokha to be arrested under the same loophole without stripping his immunity.
Grassroots political activist Kem Ley said that even if Hun Sen wanted to call the current situation an individual matter, all government institutions were still being used to take action against the opposition.
The investigation into Sokha’s alleged extramarital affair has involved not only the Anti-Corruption Unit – headed by one-time adviser to Hun Sen Om Yentieng – but also the government’s anti-terrorism police.
Ley added that while there were no fixed criteria to define a political crisis, the current stalemate in the National Assembly – recent sessions of which the opposition has boycotted – was clearly indicative of the worsening political situation in the country.
“The National Assembly is not functioning, so there are no checks and balances right now,” he said. “The political situation is currently backward.”
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga