A day after announcing plans to seize the opposition’s headquarters and push legislation that would oust its president, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday continued to push home the attack on his rivals, slapping down their plans to summon three ministers to the parliament.
The move added to what one analyst called a “comprehensive” attack to weaken the Cambodia National Rescue Party by the premier, who in a speech to parliament on Tuesday also called for an investigation into allegations published on social media that opposition lawmaker Yem Ponhearith had an affair with a secretary at the assembly.
Speaking to media outlet Fresh News, the premier said he had told the ministers of defence; agriculture, forestry and fisheries; and labour to ignore any request by the CNRP to appear before lawmakers at the assembly.
He said the opposition, which had announced plans to file a formal request to grill the men over issues relevant to their portfolio, had not “respected the law” by skipping a parliamentary vote on Tuesday, which stripped away their status as the assembly’s “minority” group.
“I will not allow them to clarify at the National Assembly,” the premier told the government-aligned news website. “You have to respect the law and participate at the National Assembly first; when you do not respect the law, how can you ask ministers to clarify?”
The CNRP, which boycotted parliament for several months last year to protest what it complained were politically motivated cases against its leadership, has opted to avoid sessions where it objects to the agenda.
Yesterday, party whip Son Chhay said the CNRP planned to press ahead and submit its request in two weeks and reiterated its stance.
“Whenever we do not support, we cannot go to participate . . . but we guarantee we will go when we are the ones who summon, because we have the responsibility to go, question and listen.”
Though the parliament’s internal regulations say that MPs shall not be absent without permission from the assembly president, and stipulates salary cuts for more than three days of unapproved leave, Cambodia’s Constitution enshrines lawmakers’ rights to summon government officials to the parliament.
Spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party Sok Eysan yesterday held the opposition had violated the code and want to “create problems” for ministers.
However, analysts yesterday were quick to point out that the prime minister’s recent threats once again showed he was ready to wield the law and courts as weapons against his political rivals.
During Tuesday’s tirade, he threatened to have the court seize properties belonging to CNRP president Sam Rainsy to pay damages in defamation cases against him and proposed changing the Law on Political Parties to exclude anyone with a criminal conviction from leading a party, a move clearly aimed at the exiled Rainsy, who faces seven years in prison stemming from a series of widely criticised cases.
The speech, one analyst said, showed the premier had grown frustrated after failing in attempts to split the party through backroom deal-making after in December approving a pardon to quash a “prostitution”-related case against CNRP acting president Kem Sokha.
Noting the recent social media posts implicating CNRP politicians in gambling and affairs, he said it appeared a “comprehensive attack” was underway.
“It seems like now Hun Sen has no shame,” said the long-term observer, who requested anonymity. “The end objective of all of this is to put the whole main opposition on their knees”.
Political analyst Ou Virak questioned the benefit of the premier’s plans to damage the opposition, saying it would likely be seen as going too far.
“The bar is low, but I think still, for legitimacy, the government needs to appear to at least allow some sort of competition during the elections,” Virak said. “If you lose legitimacy at that point, whatever you do or don’t do, the people will just be frustrated and be angry.”
Speaking yesterday, National Assembly Secretary-General Leng Peng Long said no proposal to amend the law on political parties had yet been submitted, though Eysan, of the CPP, said he would meet with lawyers today to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, Peng Long said he had “arranged officials” to “research” the allegation against Ponhearith, who was unreachable yesterday.
As for the property seizures, Ky Tech, a lawyer for both the premier, who has sued Rainsy for $1 million, and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, who has lodged a $60,000 claim against the politician, said he would move to freeze assets when verdicts became final, noting Samrin’s claim was still being appealed at the Supreme Court.
Rainsy’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, yesterday said he would appear at a February 14 hearing for the defamation case, which concerns suggestions spurred by purported leaked text messages that the premier paid social media celebrity Thy Sovantha $1 million to attack the CNRP, but wasn’t hopeful.
“We have strong evidence but not a lot of hope, we are afraid the court won’t take it into account,” Sokhong said, citing the political nature of the case.