Debate rules prevent smaller party from participating in budget talks, but election monitors say regulations are discriminatory
National Assembly lawmakers listen to Monday's opening debates on the the 2009 budget.
THREE opposition lawmakers were silenced during the National Assembly's first session Monday under a clause that prohibits parliamentarians who are not affiliated to a bloc of at least 10 voting members from speaking.
The lawmakers, from the newly-formed Human Rights Party that won only three seats in July's election, refused to team themselves with either the ruling Cambodian People's Party or the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, despite knowing they would lose their right to speak.
"We prefer to remain in our own team and stay independent of the parties. We were disappointed when the Assembly did not allow us to express our opinion in debating the draft law," lawmaker Ou Chamrith told the Post Monday, referring to the opening debate on the 2009 national budget.
"If we join, we are still under the leader of another party, so it is meaningless and we know that the [CPP] will not take our opinion into account either way," he said.
In countering the Human Rights Party's requests to be heard, CPP leader and National Assembly President Heng Samrin said, "Lawmakers, especially from the HRP, have to submit a request to the president of the National Assembly in order to include them into any team of lawmakers [to be allowed to speak]."
Mechanism of control
Mar Sophal, head of monitor for the Cambodian election watchdog Comfrel, told the Post that the requirements for speaking rights at the Assembly have been in place since 2005, but that their legitimacy was unclear.
"I think that the system is aimed at taking control of the voice of smaller parties at the National Assembly," he said.
He added that Comfrel has monitored the Assembly's debating rules since 1998 but has begun scrutinising the procedures more closely since the CPP's 2003 trouncing of its political opponents in national elections.
But CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the system obliged all lawmakers to join a group of 10 members in order to express their opinions, claiming it was adopted from parliaments in Germany and France.
"We divide into groups because we want to share an equal time of 20 minutes per group to express opinions and to debate the law," he said. "By doing so, each party will not be jealous and we can save time."
Cheam Yeap reiterated that any party that does not want to join a group will lose its right of expression.
He added that lawmakers from the royalist Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party - which won two seats each in July's poll - had joined with the CPP.