Asia - Pacific

In Cambodia, laws pass without opposition debate

Ruling party gifted empty parliamentary chamber to pass laws with opposition claiming its too afraid to take its seats

By Lauren Crothers   | 01.12.2015
In Cambodia, laws pass without opposition debate

PHNOM PENH

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH

  For the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

On Monday, lawmakers for the ruling party passed the country’s new $4.3m national budget -- at least the third time in two years the opposition has gifted the CPP the chance to rush through legislature due to the absence of any of its members from the chamber.

The Phnom Penh Post reported Tuesday that the CPP also passed laws on telecommunications and statistics.

A spokesman for the Cambodia National Rescue Party told Anadolu Agency that its absence wasn't down to any boycott, rather a lack of confidence that its 55 lawmakers could safely attend parliament without running the risk of being attacked.

“We just want to wait until the normal environment comes back to Cambodia. They have beaten CNRP MPs in front of the National Assembly NA and only three people are detained,” Yim Sovann said, even though multiple people were captured on video taking part.

Meanwhile, Sovann added, that the investigation into the attack “is very quiet”.

In May 2014, during a previous opposition boycott, 68 CPP lawmakers passed three controversial judicial laws. That was followed -- during another boycott -- by the passage of a widely criticized NGO law in July of this year.

The previous year, a month before the July elections, a law criminalizing the denial of Khmer Rouge atrocities was also passed with a boycott of the then-opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers.

The fear to attend stems from the Oct. 26 beating of two CNRP members, Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea, who were dragged from their cars and savagely attacked by a mob.

This occurred after a protest was held outside the National Assembly seeking the ouster of CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha from his position as vice president of the assembly.

Since then, three people have been arrested, Sokha has been ousted and party leader Sam Rainsy has gone in to exile to avoid a warrant for an outstanding two-year prison sentence -- issued while he was traveling around Japan and South Korea two weeks ago.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry—where a commission to investigate the attacks was established— told Anadolu Agency that the probe is not "very quiet" -- as Sovann claims -- but ongoing.

“We are waiting for the order from the investigating judge for all the documents to be sent to the court,” he said Tuesday. 

“All complaints have already been put to the court already, and [the judge will decide] how many people should be arrested.”

Asked how the lawmakers feel about the ruling party forging ahead with business despite no resolution to the attacks, Sovann said it “is up to them.”

“From now on, they can do whatever they want. Look from the outside and it’s calm and quiet, but if you look deeply into the heart of the people, you can feel that they are suffering from the way that the CPP acts against the opposition.”

In any case, the CPP has the power to pass whichever laws it chooses, owing to its parliamentary majority and for the time being, the opposition does not look set to return to their seats.

Political analyst Ou Virak is worried.

“It is never a good idea” for parliament to be half empty, he tells Anadolu Agency. “But I think the opposition has been put into a very difficult position because if you look at the options, what do they have?”

Although symbolic because of the lack of seats, Virak said that at least being able to have debate and voice opposition to legislation can still be impactful for the CNRP, even if it is “business as usual.”

“The sad reality is that both sides seem to be comfortable with the roles that they play,” he added.

“The danger for the opposition is the only strategy… which would be to repeat the 2013 election, only bigger — but that would mean an old way of doing things.

"It’s sad because they can’t think of anything new.”

In 2013, Rainsy returned from a period of exile in time to contest the elections, which drew millions to the streets of Phnom Penh and saw the electorate imbued with a new sense of alternatives.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan could not be reached by Anadolu Agency on Tuesday 

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