Newly minted Funcinpec lawmakers took their places this weekend at the head of five National Assembly commissions previously chaired by the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, including the Commission on Human Rights.
The National Assembly voted to install Funcinpec representative You Hockry as first deputy of the body, with 112 out of 117 present lawmakers approving the selection.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the CNRP, Cambodia’s only viable opposition party, in a decision that international observers have called a tremendous blow to democracy. The CNRP’s 55 parliamentary seats were redistributed to minor parties, with Funcinpec receiving the bulk despite only winning around 3 percent of the vote in 2013.
Funcinpec lawmaker and party spokesman Nheb Bun Chhin took over the Commission on Human Rights, a chair previously held by CNRP Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang. “I have a strong belief that this committee is very important,” said Bun Chhin yesterday.
While Bun Chhin said he would review every complaint received by the committee, including political cases, he vowed to focus primarily on land disputes. “We are going to face this important issue . . . we are going to solve this problem,” he said.
Bun Chhin went on to defend Funcinpec’s decision to accept National Assembly seats they did not actually win, saying he was “hurt” by accusations that they “grabbed the opposition’s seats”.
Funcinpec actually filed an official complaint to the Ministry of Interior seeking the dissolution of the CNRP, prompting some observers to accuse them of striking a political deal with the ruling party. At the time, Bun Chhin defended the complaint by claiming the CNRP “took all my supporters”.
When asked if he would be willing to confront the government on human rights issues, Bun Chhin said he was more likely to seek progress through compromise
“Aggressive without any result, I don’t do that,” he said, asserting that the CNRP’s intense criticisms of the government were motivated by concerns over their “image”.
Hockry had similar words for reporters outside of the National Assembly yesterday, saying that “Funcinpec does not want to have the name ‘opposition party’, but we want the name ‘minority party’.”
“To oppose all things, right or wrong, it is useless for the people,” he explained.
Indeed, Cambodian political analyst Meas Nee said that Funcinpec will be unable to fulfil the traditional role of an opposition party because it is indebted to the CPP.
“[Prince Ranariddh] said already that he will not criticise and does not let his lawmakers criticise the government . . . I do not expect that those commission directors will use their power to make change,” he said.
“This National Assembly can be called a gift which was offered by the ruling party,” Nee added. “First, they need to show gratitude and second, I think that because they are not the representatives of the people, when they say anything, it is not very influential.”