Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Voice from the wilderness

Voice from the wilderness

Voice from the wilderness

081229_06.jpg
081229_06.jpg

The Human Rights Party’s Kem Sokha says efforts to muzzle the opposition during parliamentary debate hurts democracy

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha, shown here at his offices on December 22, speaks about his party’s role in the current government.

With only three lawmakers, your party has no right to speak in the National Assembly. What is your position on this issue?

The Human Rights Party still claims a full right of expression within the National Assembly, as a voice of the minority. We may only be three parliamentarians, but we still represent the 40,000 people who gave us their vote.

In the National Assembly, we empower the minority by placing checks and balances on the country's leadership. But if the ruling party monopolises speaking time, we lose these checks and balances that are so essential in a democracy.

The internal rules of the National Assembly specify that lawmakers need to form groups of at least 10 members in order to speak.

But we must ask who created this rule and why. Was it to promote or to reduce freedom of expression? Cambodia's Constitution emphasises freedom of expression of the Cambodian people and the lawmakers who represent them, and when we make a law we must respect the Constitution.

We will continue to push for an amendment of the internal rules of the National Assembly. When the CPP wants to amend a law, everything goes smoothly for them. But why can we not revise rules if this revision would promote freedom and democracy? Some CPP lawmakers tell us we must respect the law, which is easier said than done. We respect the law, but it must be good law.

What is the reaction of your supporters?

The Cambodian people are very unhappy, but I tried to calm them and wait for a resolution. But the CPP behaves disrespectfully because it won 90 seats in the Assembly. If no solution is found, our 40,000 supporters will be very angry, and we will continue to struggle for an amendment. I don't want to worry the Cambodian people, but why is the CPP so worried about our three HRP lawmakers?

According to the internal rules of the National Assembly, if a minority party cannot form a group of 10, it should join another party group in order to be able to speak.

THE RULING PARTY MUST GIVE A VOICE TO THE OPPOSITION AND MINOR GROUPS IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.

Why doesn't the HRP do it?

We don't join another party because we want to preserve our party's identity. This requirement is wrong in a liberal democracy, and it shows that the National Assembly is not a pluralistic parliament. Here, the big party dominates the small party.

But smaller parties should be able to express themselves regardless of how many parliamentarians it has.

We have also suggested that lawmakers from other parties should be able to form a group with us, and speak with a common voice.
Why do you think these rules are in place?

Parliaments in other countries oblige lawmakers to form groups in order to manage speaking time more easily. But most of these parliaments are divided into ruling parties and opposition, not into groups as in Cambodia. Of course, the opposition is a minority, but they still have time to speak.

In Cambodia, the National Assembly limits freedom of expression because the ruling party is afraid of criticism from the opposition.

Even members of the ruling party don't dare to criticise the head of government because they don't want him to lose his position. If we want to have real democracy and help the government to better serve the nation through constructive criticism, the ruling party must give a voice to the opposition and minor groups in the National Assembly.

Will you request help from the international community or from the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Organisation?

No, not yet. Before the inauguration of the new Assembly [Prime Minister Hun Sen] had already promised the Sam Rainsy Party that he will recognise the rights of the opposition. We will give him some time to fulfill this promise.

Hun Sen has also stressed that he would be unhappy if we sought international support. So we tried to address our grievances directly to Assembly President Samdech Heng Samrin, but he keeps answering that we should respect the rules as they are. We will wait until the end of the year.

If they don't offer a solution, we will seek help from the Inter-Parliamentary Organisation and other democrats to defend the right of lawmakers.

If your effort to amend the internal rule fails, what is your next step?

If we cannot speak within the Assembly, we will seek another forum to present our views.

For example, when parliament discusses a law, but we cannot voice our position, we can release statements to the press. We will seek public understanding for our ideas and suggestions through NGO forums and the media. But this is only our last alternative.

If the CPP controls the government, the Assembly and the Senate, and doesn't allow minority representatives to speak, then it encourages demonstrations and protests in the maquis like in the past.

I think they don't reflect enough on this issue. What do they lose if they amend the internal rules and allow others to speak?

Can Cambodia claim it has real freedom of expression?

We have freedom of expression only on the surface, but not in substance.

First, many important channels of information, television and radio, are controlled by the ruling party, even if there are some free media outlets. Second, if they ban the voice of lawmakers, it is even more serious than the freedom of press because the lawmakers are direct representatives of the people.

So, even though the government claims that there is freedom of expression, this is really not the case.

How do you cooperate with the Sam Rainsy Party within the Assembly?

We asked the SRP to speak for us, but we don't want this situation to continue forever. We want to speak for ourselves and have full freedom. The SRP complained too, but when they criticised the government, the CPP threatened the opposition.

To tackle the problem, we have discussed with the SRP to unite into one large opposition and cooperate in debates and in nonviolent protest. In the future, we will unite and create a big party for the next election.

How would you describe the current National Assembly?

The current Assembly is reverting into a Communist assembly, where the state is the party and the party is the state.

The Assembly is controlled by one party, the government is led by one party and the judicial system is controlled by one party.

It is like a communist system, but we will have to see what happens in the future.

MOST VIEWED

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon

  • Migrant workers set to return from Malaysia

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation confirmed on Thursday that 158 Cambodian students and migrant workers will fly home from Malaysia on Friday morning. This is the second flight to bring Cambodians home from Malaysia. A ministry notice said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH754 will

  • Cambodia to remain neutral on ASEAN-China territorial dispute

    Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn told an informal meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on Wednesday that Cambodia will stay neutral on the South China Sea. He appealed to all stakeholders to continue fostering a conducive environment that contributes to the end

  • Keeping it riel, Cambodia steps up de-dollarisation

    The economic downturn has supplied the National Bank of Cambodia with an opportunity to step up its agenda to return the shine on the riel while coping with Covid-19 challenges Late May, an instruction by the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) to financial institutions to

  • ANA finds ancient Sanskrit inscription

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has found a Sanskrit inscription carved on ancient stone. The inscription was discovered on the underside of a stone on Wednesday, in front of the Tonle Snguot temple which workers were cleaning. Archaeologist and Apsara Authority deputy-director Im Sok Rithy