Firing back at mounting criticism, ruling party lawmaker Chheang Vun yesterday insisted the National Assembly had acted legally and correctly when it stripped all opposition lawmakers of their elected positions last week.
“We worked in accordance with the law; we did not act as outlaws. It is wrong what they alleged,” said Vun, who is also a member of the 12-lawmaker Permanent Committee that issued the controversial decision last Wednesday.
The decision by the Permanent Committee, which is composed solely of CPP members, has drawn heavy criticism from the opposition, rights groups, legal analysts and even the United States, which publicly condemned the decision.
Speaking at a press conference at the National Assembly, Vun told reporters that ruling party lawmakers had not wanted to strip their opposition colleagues of their status, but were left with no choice when the MPs began using the National Assembly floor to campaign for their newly formed party.
That act of campaigning “brought us to take legal action,” he said.
According to the committee, the 27 lawmakers from the Human Rights Party and Sam Rainsy Party, as well as two from the Norodom Ranariddh Party, violated the law on political parties when they resigned from their parties. All had left earlier this year to join separate parties, following a merger by the opposition parties and a separate one by the royalists.
Quoting from the Law on Political Parties and Law on Parliamentary Elections, Vun sought to allay concerns that his committee’s move was illegal. Cambodians may not hold membership in multiple parties, and a lawmaker who moves to a new party by default vacates his or her seat, he explained. While legal experts have pointed out that the latter requirement only relates to jumps made six months prior to an election, Vun insisted the committee’s interpretation perfectly hewed to the letter of the law.
Though the parliamentarians will no longer receive salaries, be able to vote or enjoy the immunity afforded to elected lawmakers, Vun said they could retain the titles of “excellencies.”
Vun’s commitment to enacting the rules was quickly made clear at the close of his press conference. Standing among attendees, SRP lawmaker Son Chhay attracted a group of journalists seeking comment.
As he opened his mouth, Vun ran over and began shouting at the party whip to quit, even calling over security guards to escort him from the building.
“Son Chhay is no longer a parliamentarian and has no right to hold press conferences in the National Assembly,” Vun said.
Once outside the building, Chhay said he was little swayed by Vun’s arguments.
“We are considering taking legal action, but the court, the Constitutional Council and the NEC are all under the influence of CPP,” he said. “But for the sake of principle, we will file a complaint to the Constitutional Council.”
The expulsion of the lawmakers came just two days before a vote on a controversial Khmer Rouge crimes denial law, which was drafted in response to alleged comments by opposition leader Kem Sokha. With no opposition input, the law – which many fear could be used to stifle free speech – passed in just over an hour Friday. In a joint statement, 16 NGOs yesterday condemned the mass expulsion and urged King Norodom Sihamoni not to sign it.
“[C]itizens were left without any voice in the country’s governance last week. If the ruling party continues to abuse this mandated process, all laws passed must be considered null and void,” reads the statement from Licadho, CLEC, election watchdog NICFEC and others.
Vun, however, denied the opposition had been targeted.