THE president of the Human Rights Party said Wednesday that his lawmakers are being silenced in the National Assembly because of their minority status and has called for international intervention.
In the disputed July 2008 parliamentary elections, the ruling Cambodian People's Party won a landslide majority, the Sam Rainsy Party became the main opposition party, and the Human Rights Party took third place with 6.6 percent of the vote and three seats.
Speaking Wednesday, HRP President Kem Sokha said the ruling CPP has dominated all parliamentary debate, preventing his own lawmakers from being heard.
"We asked [the Assembly] to listen to us, but they wouldn't allow us to express anything at all," he said. "I have raised this issue with several international diplomats - including US Senator Jim Webb - who were keen to learn about how democracy works in Cambodia."
According to current regulations, the only way a minority party can be guaranteed a voice in the National Assembly is to merge with another party to secure a minimum of 10 seats, Kem Sokha said.
"They want us to join with another party before they will allow us to express ourselves, but we can't do that," he said. "We are an independent party. Why was this regulation created? To provide rights and freedom or to limit freedom?" Kem Sokha said.
He called for the regulation to be scrapped, saying it effecctively gags minority parties and stifles political debate.
They want us to join with another party... but we can't do that.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap dismissed Kem Sokha's comments and said Assembly President Heng Samrin provided more time to opposition parties than the ruling party. He acknowledged, however, that parties holding fewer than 10 seats would struggle to make themselves heard.
"[We] respect the law and internal regulations," regarding minimums, he said, adding that for the HRP to be heard with just three lawmakers "is impossible".
Koul Panha, executive director of election monitoring group Comfrel, condemned the regulation on Wednesday, describing it as undemocratic.
"They cannot make one party's lawmakers join with other parties," he said. "One party, even if it only has two or three members, must be allowed a voice. Only this conforms to democracy and the system of proportional representation. This internal regulation should be amended."
In January, the HRP and SRP signed an agreement to align under the banner of the Democratic Movement for Change in a bid to balance the power of the CPP. Efforts to realise the opposition merger, however, have since stalled.
Speaking in July, Yem Ponhearith, secretary general of the HRP, said the string of suits against government critics had made the need for unity more urgent than ever.
"We need more dialogue in order to achieve our aim to merge into a single democratic party before 2012," he said.
"We hope that our plan of merging the parties will not meet any obstacles. We want a democratic party that will balance the power of the CPP."
During a meeting with US Senator Webb in Cambodia earlier this month, Kem Sokha said he told him that the US "should continue to monitor democracy in Cambodia because it is still not going smoothly."