The Cambodian People’s Party yesterday stripped opposition leader Kem Sokha of his position as first vice president of the National Assembly in a legally dubious vote boycotted by the opposition.
The vote, slammed as “a blow to democracy” by a CNRP lawmaker, came just four days after opposition parliamentarians Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea were savagely beaten outside parliament following a pro-CPP demonstration against Sokha, a rally the CPP yesterday used to justify the ousting.
In a statement, the CNRP denounced the move against Sokha – whose house was also attacked on Monday – as “unconstitutional” and in violation of the July 22, 2014, deal between the parties.
That deal, which ended the opposition’s almost year-long parliamentary boycott after the disputed 2013 elections, saw Sokha receive the vice president position.
CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, via email, yesterday said “people could tell” the protest, violence and further calls for Sokha’s ousting by members of the military were “CPP orchestrated”.
“The CPP claims that it is acting according to the will of the people,” Sochua said.
“For years, the victims of land grabs brought complaints, petitions to the National Assembly when the CPP chaired the Commission on Human Rights, close to no action was taken.
“The removal of Kem Sokha is unconstitutional as Article 87 [of the Constitution] stipulates.”
Article 87 only allows for the replacement of the National Assembly’s president or vice presidents in the case of their resignation or death. No provision allows for lawmakers to oust a sitting parliamentary leader.
But yesterday, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap maintained that the vote, pushed onto the agenda an hour before the session, was lawful and justified because of Sokha’s criticism of the ruling party.
Reading a statement on behalf of 63 CPP lawmakers who requested the motion, Yeap claimed the attacks were against the spirit of the July 22 deal, which instigated the so-called “culture of dialogue” to defuse political tensions, had “affected national security” and “created a rift between the parties”.
“We have enough documents that we have collected from Kem Sokha’s visits to the provinces which [show] he defamed the leaders of CPP and broke the agreement of the two parties,” Yeap said.
He claimed the CPP had received “many petitions” signed by some 300,000 people to remove Sokha, which the assembly, by law, had to address, he added.
National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun said Sokha would remain a lawmaker and the CNRP could choose another of its members to fill the assembly’s first vice president role. CNRP deputy director-general of public affairs Kem Monovithya, however, told the Post later that no candidate to replace Sokha will be put forward.
A parliamentary legal adviser, who declined to be named, said the vote entered a “legal grey area”.
“The plenary is allowed with a simple majority to remove an MP completely. I would say it’s also the implied power of the National Assembly to just remove someone from their position within the NA, that’s at least what the CPP may say in its defence.”
CNRP president Sam Rainsy yesterday declined to elaborate beyond the party’s statement, saying he would return to Cambodia from France on November 4.
On Monday, Rainsy accused Hun Sen of orchestrating Monday’s 2,000-strong rally and using “fascist methods” as retaliation for anti-government protests which confronted the premier in France.
Two days later the premier – who alluded to the rally the night before it took place – denounced the attacks and moved to distance his party from the violence.
Hun Sen had previously hinted at ousting Sokha from his parliamentary position and earlier this week suggested Rainsy could also end up behind bars as his Facebook hosted the border-related Facebook post that saw opposition senator Hong Sok Hour jailed.
Political analyst Ou Virak, founder of think-tank the Future Forum said Hun Sen appeared to be acting out of anger rather than strategically and may well turn his attention to Rainsy next.
“They will try to bring about legal harassment to try and keep Sam Rainsy at bay,” Virak said.
“Hun Sen has upped the stakes. It could backfire, but that would require a strategic move by the opposition and one that has good quality leadership.”