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Mixed feelings as unelected lawmakers are sworn in to National Assembly

A packed bus of Funcinpec members heading to the Royal Palace for the swearing in ceremony yesterday in Phnom Penh.
A packed bus of Funcinpec members heading to the Royal Palace for the swearing in ceremony yesterday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Mixed feelings as unelected lawmakers are sworn in to National Assembly

As forty-four lawmakers were sworn in yesterday to the National Assembly at the Royal Palace, capital residents expressed displeasure at seeing elected representatives from the recently dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party replaced by representatives from three parties with next to no popular support.

The CNRP – the only legitimate competitor to the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party in next year’s national elections – was dissolved on November 16 in a Supreme Court verdict that has been widely condemned as politically motivated.

Its 55 National Assembly seats have been divvied up, mostly among small parties, with the royalist Funcinpec party getting 41 seats, despite winning less than 4 percent of the vote in 2013. The CNRP, by comparison, won 44 percent.

The Cambodian Nationality Party and the Khmer Economic Development Party, which won less than 1 percent between them, were given two seats and one seat, respectively. The remaining 11 former CNRP seats will go to the CPP after other minor parties declined to accept them.

After taking his oath yesterday, Funcinpec lawmaker Aing Sambo dismissed criticisms of officials who accepted the seats. “Normally, as the lawmaker, we need to fulfil our duties and [appointed] positions,” he said.

But the swearing-in ceremony yesterday was met with criticism by many capital residents interviewed yesterday by The Post.

Keo Phearum, a 43-year-old teacher, said that he could not accept the legitimacy of the new lawmakers, who had bypassed the elections.

“People voted for [the CNRP] because they love their policy, but people who have not been voted for received the position. I think that it is not right,” he said.

Tuk-tuk driver Thuok, 40, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said the parties “stole the seats”.

He added that he won’t vote next year, saying the election is now “meaningless”.

Waiter Theary Choyvanny, 18, however, said he was indifferent about the redistribution, and was still undecided about what he would do when polls open. “I may go to vote even if there is no opposition party, but there are still other parties. I will make my decision on election day,” he said.

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said not recognising the lawmakers would have no impact, likening the redistribution to an unstoppable force. “If you dare to use your leg to prevent, it will break your leg. If you use your arm to prevent, it will break your arm,” he said.

Though yesterday’s ceremony was held at the Royal Palace, King Norodom Sihamoni did not attend.According to Prince Sisowath Thomico, the King occasionally remained absent “when new MPs are sworn in to replace other MPs after the latter’s death or resignation”.

Meanwhile, the National Election Committee announced yesterday which CPP lawmakers would take the 11 remaining seats. Among the recipients was recent CNRP defector Long Bunny, who capitalised on a promise by Prime Minister Hun Sen that elected CNRP officials who jumped ship would get to keep their jobs.

The ruling party now holds 79 out of 123 assembly seats and is likely to increase its share after the national elections, with the party’s main competitor removed from the electoral field.

Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said Cambodia has in many ways always been a “procedural democracy”, in which elections are held but manipulated in such a way that ensures victory for the CPP.

“While this has always been the case, the recent dissolution of the CNRP has made this state of affairs more ‘official’, as it were, dispelling any hopes either that the CPP would lead Cambodia in the direction of democratic reform, or that an election might somehow veer off script,” he said.

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