Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - MPs' fate open; polls mooted

MPs' fate open; polls mooted

MPs' fate open; polls mooted

F UNCINPEC backed off from a bid to strip eight renegade MPs of their parliamentary

seats this week, avoiding a confrontation with the CPP for control of the dead-locked

National Assembly.

A meeting of the assembly's permanent standing committee May 29 was canceled by its

acting head, Loy Sim Chheang, who is also the Funcinpec Secretary-General.

The meeting had been expected to produce fireworks, with other Funcinpec members

on the committee vowing to vote to oust the dissident party MPs from the assembly.

CPP members of the Funcinpec-dominated committee were expected to hotly contest the

proposed expulsions, or boycott the meeting and refuse to accept its result.

Chheang took the decision away from the committee, saying it was up to the co-Prime

Ministers and acting head of state Chea Sim to resolve the crisis which has left

the assembly paralyzed for the past five weeks.

His cancellation of the meeting surprised at least some of his fellow Funcinpec committee

members. "We were ready to vote but he didn't allow us to vote," said Funcinpec

MP and committee member Ahmad Yahya. "I don't know what he had in his mind."

Chheang's move came after a May 23 meeting with Chea Sim, the National Assembly president

acting as head of state in the absence of King Sihanouk. Chheang, who is standing

in as assembly president, said that he asked Chea Sim to contact the Prime Ministers

"to discuss and solve the problem, because it is a problem of the political

parties".

The same day that Chheang and Chea Sim met, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh

(Funcinpec) called for the dissolution of parliament and an early election if the

deadlock could not be broken.

"If the National Assembly cannot function, the government cannot either,"

Ranariddh told reporters. "If the National Assembly dies, the government dies

and both Prime Ministers will have to meet to request that the King dissolve the

National Assembly and call for an early election.

"There is no alternative and for me, with the election, the sooner the better,"

Ranariddh said. But he later added that, if the assembly could resume functioning,

the government should complete its full term of office until 1998.

There was no immediate public response from Second Prime Minister Hun Sen (CPP) to

Ranariddh's suggestion of an early election.

But Khieu Kanharith, the CPP Secretary of State for Information, said: "The

CPP thinks [dissolving the assembly] would be good because we can proceed to a general

election, but the problem is that we don't have an electoral law, so what will happen?

"If the MPs are clever enough, they have to adopt the law on elections and after

that dissolve [the assembly]."

The assembly has not met since Funcinpec Minister of State and MP Ung Phan launched

a rival Funcinpec bloc challenging Ranariddh's leadership of the party.

Phan's breakaway - publicly endorsed by Hun Sen - has so far attracted seven other

MPs and the Funcinpec governors of Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey. The group have

contested their subsequent expulsion from Funcinpec.

At stake in the parliamentary impasse is whether Funcinpec has the right to replace

the renegade MPs in the assembly, as happened with former MP Sam Rainsy when he was

expelled from the party in 1995.

Funcinpec claims that the assembly's permanent standing committee has the right to

decide whether to expel the MPs.

The committee met May 22nd and 23rd but CPP members refused to discuss the MPs' expulsions,

according to Ahmad Yahya. At the same time, CPP mounted a bid to unseat two Funcinpec

MPs, Om Radsady and Ky Lum Ang, from the committee, an apparent bid to annul Funcinpec's

domination of it.

The 12-member committee is comprised of the heads of nine parliamentary commissions,

the assembly president and his two deputies. Of the 12, five are Funcinpec MPs, two

BLDP MPs loyal to Funcinpec, and five CPP ones.

Before the May 22 meeting, a letter was sent to the standing committee by renegade

Funcinpec MPs and CPP MPs who are on the two parliamentary commissions headed by

Radsady and Lum Ang. The letters said they no longer recognized Radsady and Lum Ang

as heads of the commissions.

In a joint statement, Radsady and Lum Ang said they faced an "unprecedented

and orchestrated" effort to remove them from their parliamentary commissions

and from the standing committee.

They said the attack on them was "CPP-led" and "directly linked"

to the Ung Phan breakaway, adding that "clearly, CPP wants to wrest control

of the permanent standing committee from Funcinpec."

As members wrangled over the validity of Radsady and Lum Ang's positions on the standing

committee, the issue of the expulsions of the dissident Funcinpec MPs was not put

to a vote.

Funcinpec had vowed to force a result on the issue at the subsequent meeting scheduled

for May 29, but Chheang decided to cancel it to "avoid a confrontation with

CPP," according to an adviser to Prince Ranariddh.

The stand-off within the committee is preventing agreement on the calling of a National

Assembly session to approve government decisions necessary to facilitate Cambodia's

entry into the ASEAN group of nations in July.

Ranariddh, speaking May 23, indicated the ASEAN issue would have to wait until "internal

legal issues within the assembly" were settled.

Meanwhile, a planned congress by the Funcinpec dissidents in Phnom Penh this Sunday,

June 1, is likely to throw more fuel on the political fire.

The congress is expected to appoint the expelled Funcinpec Siem Reap governor Toan

Chay - the highest-ranking party official to defect from Ranariddh - as president

of the breakaway group.

Toan Chay and Ung Phan maintain that they are still Funcinpec members, and have formed

a so-called "Interim Committee for Compromise in Funcinpec" based at offices

near the Olympic Stadium.

On May 23 the Funcinpec governor of Phnom Penh, Chhim Seak Leng, gave a three-day

deadline to the group to remove a sign bearing Funcinpec's name from their headquarters.

Heavily-armed CPP-aligned military police took up positions around the building -

and in the grounds of the neighboring Municipal Court - May 25th and 26th. Fears

that Funcinpec loyalists would try to forcibly remove the sign eased after Serey

Kosal, a special envoy of Ranariddh, said the party would not provoke a confrontation.

Kosal also played down the possibility of any conflict at the scheduled Ung Phan-Toan

Chay congress, saying that the meeting would not give any "headaches" to

Funcinpec.

Earlier, Ung Phan was granted security for his group from Kompong Cham governor Hun

Neng, who is Hun Sen's brother.

In a May 9 letter to the co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng (CPP), Phan asked the

minister to request Hun Neng's assistance to provide "100 percent" security

for his group. Sar Kheng signed his approval to the request May 11.

Toan Chay, in a May 26 press conference, discounted threats from "extremists"

to disrupt the congress as propaganda designed to discourage Funcinpec members from

attending.

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