A ruling party proposal to rewrite the National Assembly’s internal regulations to scrap Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president’s Kem Sokha’s title of “minority leader” in parliament will go to a vote next week, it was decided yesterday.
After meeting for an hour, the National Assembly’s permanent committee, controlled by the Cambodian People’s Party, sent the proposed amendment to Article 48 III of the parliament’s code to a plenary session, which was set for January 31.
The article sets out the framework for the opposition’s standing as a “minority” group in parliament with a designated representative who is supposed to engage in dialogue with the premier and ruling party.
Only weeks after endorsing Sokha for the minority leader position, previously held by exiled CNRP president Sam Rainsy, Prime Minister Hun Sen last week called for the article to be changed, accusing the CNRP of misusing the position to push for the release of five prisoners jailed in a case widely considered to be politically motivated.
Speaking after yesterday’s meeting, the spokesman for the CPP’s lawmakers, Chheang Vun, said the amendment formally proposed by 52 CPP lawmakers soon after the premier’s request would revert the article to its previous form.
Vun echoed the premier’s rationale. “This mechanism is not a mechanism for the release of prisoners, it is a mechanism for discussion; it is a mechanism for serving the culture of dialogue to solve big national problems.”
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said the previous version of the article gave lawmaker groups in the assembly the right to speak but did not include provisions establishing a minority leader.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith criticised the CPP’s swift unilateral action, noting the lack of debate surrounding the amendment.
Also responding to the accusation that the CNRP was abusing its position, he noted that the party was unable to use its official minority status to do anything without the agreement of the ruling party.
German political scientist Markus Karbaum said that though the targeted article had not proved particularly helpful to the opposition, its likely loss was disappointing.
“The reputation of opposition politicians is still lower than in many other countries because they are reflexively connected to usurpers” in the minds of the ruling party, Karbaum said via email.
“The minority status in Cambodia is therefore in fact much more than just ceremonial; it is part of the evolvement of a modern state and a sort of normalization. Hence, scrapping this status is clearly a setback for Cambodia.”