CNRP vice president Kem Sokha will next week leave the safety of the opposition’s headquarters in Phnom Penh for only the second time since police attempted to arrest him six months ago, with a party official saying he plans to attend Tuesday’s sitting of parliament.
Sokha has been living in the CNRP’s offices since May 26, when armed police unsuccessfully tried to arrest him for failing to show in court for questioning over an alleged love affair. His only departure since then came on October 5, and lasted less than an hour.
That brief trip, to register to vote, came only after he was finally sentenced to five months in prison for failing to honour a court summons and he received public assurances that no more attempts to arrest him would be made until he had exhausted the appeals process.
The CNRP’s 55 lawmakers have been boycotting the Assembly in the meantime, but party spokesman Yem Ponhearith yesterday said lawmakers would attend National Assembly meetings scheduled for today and on Tuesday to pass next year’s budget.
“We are scheduled to join the session tomorrow,” Ponhearith said of today’s permanent committee meeting, which will set the agenda for a plenary session on Tuesday that the CNRP will also attend.
“In principle, we will join to debate about the national budget, which is a very important law,” he said. “Acting president Kem Sokha also confirmed he plans to join the National Assembly session, too.”
Last month, the CNRP had said it planned to break its boycott, only to later go back on the decision after Sokha reportedly received a threat of violence from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
If he attends, Tuesday’s meeting will also be Sokha’s first time at the assembly since becoming a convicted criminal, and Ponhearith said the party hoped the CNRP finally breaking its boycott may encourage the ruling party to engage in talks over jailed opposition officials and activists.
In addition to Sokha, the court has, over the past 18 months, jailed more than two dozen activists and opposition officials – many of them related to the CNRP deputy leader’s alleged mistress – and the opposition has said it hopes to convince the CPP to release them.
However, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the CNRP’s presence in the Assembly could not help overrule decisions by the legal system, maintaining that the courts were free from CPP influence.
“Wanting to join or not is their business. It is each lawmaker’s responsibility. The processes of parliament will still be the same [without them]. It is still legal according to the Constitution,” he said.
“If we meet 20 more times, we still cannot solve that, because we are not a court,” he added.