Forty-four unelected lawmakers from three parties that won less than a combined 5 percent of the vote in the 2013 elections took their seats in the National Assembly yesterday, replacing representatives from the now-shuttered Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The bulk of the new parliamentarians come from the royalist Funcinpec party, which filed a complaint to dissolve the CNRP in October.
Two lawmakers from the Cambodian Nationality Party and one from the Khmer Economic Development Party were also approved.
They will be sworn in this afternoon.
The dramatic reshuffling of the assembly was made possible by a series of manoeuvres that has left the CPP with virtually no challenger in the upcoming 2018 elections, and solidified its near universal control of local-level politics.
The CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court earlier this month, vacating their 55 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly. Prior to the dissolution, amendments to election laws opened the door for seats to be redistributed to other parties that also contested the 2013 election, excluding the ruling CPP.
The League for Democracy Party and Khmer Anti-Poverty Party both refused seats, however, allowing the CPP to claim the remaining eleven – which the National Election Committee (NEC) approved yesterday.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the party would decide on the list of candidates for the 11 seats according to vote tallies from the 2013 elections and would send the list to the NEC soon.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of Funcinpec and former co-prime minister, took his seat yesterday as a Kampong Cham representative. After the half-hour meeting he called on party officials to please constituents.
“I, on behalf of the royalist Funcinpec party, appeal to all of you to work hard in each of your provinces to get support,” he said to his fellow party members outside of the National Assembly. He added that the dissolution of the CNRP was the “responsibility of the nation”.
“I am very happy to accept these seats,” he said.
According to Ranariddh, fellow Kampong Cham lawmaker and former Interior Minister You Hockry will serve as the National Assembly’s first deputy president.
The royalists gained just 3.66 percent of votes in the last national elections, a precipitous fall since Funcinpec won the 1993 elections and jockeyed with the CPP for control throughout the decade.
CNP and KEDP, meanwhile, only won 0.58 percent and 0.29 percent, respectively. None of the three parties’ vote share was large enough to entitle them to a single seat.
Cambodia Nationality Party chief Seng Sokheng, from Kampong Cham, said he took the seats because he wanted “to serve the people” and “give warmth to the people at the local level”.
KEDP President Huon Reach Chamroeun, meanwhile, said his party would act as an “opposition” to the ruling party, despite having only one seat, while Funcinpec spokesman Nheb Bun Chhin said the royalists would serve as “a minority party”, rather than an opposition.
He pledged to focus on “peace, development and stability”, though he acknowledged that his party would likely only remain in the National Assembly for a “very short time” – until next year’s national elections determine the assembly’s makeup.
Former CNRP lawmaker Long Botta, speaking from self-imposed exile, doubted the new lawmakers would ever have popular support.
“The people did not vote for them, and the people also hate them,” he said. “The people will not recognise them.”
Yoeurng Sotheara, legal expert at election watchdog Comfrel, said the new makeup of the National Assembly fails to satisfy the “philosophy of democracy” or the “definition of representation”.
“Representation has to be chosen by election process, not by appointment,” he said.
For Phil Robertson, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in Asia, the National Assembly reshuffling was an indication that Cambodia no longer a democracy.
“Wiping out an elected opposition and replacing it with representatives of a has-been political party that won no seats in the last election hardly constitutes anything resembling a democratic process. Both PM Hun Sen and the political opportunists willing to beg for the scraps from his table deserve the utmost condemnation,” he said via email.
Two parties, meanwhile, yesterday submitted their candidates for positions within the NEC that are now vacant after the resignation of three CNRP-appointed members.
Ranariddh said Funcinpec had put forward party member Nut Sokhom as their candidate for deputy president of the NEC and Sokheng, the head of the CNP, said his party had nominated Hak Vanthy.
It remained unclear whether the third position would be filled by a candidate affiliated with a party other than the CPP, in accordance with the law, or by a civil society representative, as Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested in a speech last week.
Separately, senators Kun Lum Ang and Sor Chandeth were expelled from the Senate on Friday because they are among 118 CNRP officials banned from politics for five years by the Supreme Court’s Novemebr 16 decision.
Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski and Andrew Nachemson