PHNOM PENH & WASHINGTON DC - Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Wednesday told reporters that this week’s National Assembly session, held by the ruling party without the participation of the opposition, was a “constitutional coup” that did not reflect the will of the people.
“We will not cooperate in any manner with the present National Assembly and with the present government unless there are guarantees that there will be an investigation committee to investigate the election irregularities and to find justice for the voters, whose wills have been distorted, and provided also that there is a program of reforms that both parties can agree upon,” he said.
Sam Rainsy’s remarks come a day after the ruling Cambodian People’s Party voted in a block measure to install its own members into the Cambodian cabinet, despite a boycott by the opposition.
The measure, which named ministers, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as the leadership of the National Assembly, was voted on by 68 members of the ruling party, with 55 opposition lawmakers elect boycotting. Constitutionally, that is not enough members to open an Assembly, legal experts say.
The opposition leader on Wednesday said more demonstrations were a viable option “to push the ruling party to recognize the will of the majority of the Cambodian people,” and he called on the international community to “stop engaging with the current government of Cambodia.”
“This government is illegitimate, and we will conduct a worldwide campaign to de-legitimize this government, which is the result of a constitutional coup,” he said.
This week, the United States and international observers have called on both sides to resolve their differences and end the political deadlock that has been in place since the July 28 election.
“We believe that a democratic and credible National Assembly must reflect the will of the people by including the meaningful participation of both major political parties,” Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the US State Department, said in a statement. “We urge all parties to seize this opportunity to improve democratic processes and implement meaningful reforms which strengthen the rule of law and increase respect for human rights.”
She called on both sides to follow through with a Sept. 16 statement “denouncing violence, supporting electoral reform, and agreeing to resolve national problems through dialogue.”
Koul Panha, head of the election-monitoring group Comfrel, said each party should “change attitudes” and work together for the good of the country. But he also said the National Assembly needs the participation of both parties to ensure checks and balances.
“If it is only one party, one group, and one person, how can it be checks and balances?” he said. “And how can can it make decisions on behalf of the people’s interest and the will of the people?”
Cambodia is “in two,” he said, with 43 percent of support apparently for the opposition, and 48 percent for the ruling party. “So they have to find a way to work according to this new evolution in Cambodia,” he said.
Hang Puthea, head of the election-monitoring group Nicfec, said the Rescue Party must now consider whether it will work with the ruling party. The CPP is already prepared for criticisms of an unconstitutional government, and it must now put at ease opposition supporters and the international community, he said.
Both election monitors said a credible investigation into allegations of irregularities would go a long way, but it remains uncertain whether that will take place. The opposition says it will not join the National Assembly until such investigations are agreed upon.
For his part, Hun Sen has said he will negotiate with the opposition—but only after it swears in its lawmakers for the National Assembly. There are positions available, he said this week, including chairmanships of four committees at the Assembly.
Meanwhile, in a separate, public speech Wednesday to CPP leaders, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the party must be willing to change to reflect the country’s new political environment and “to respond to the people’s needs.”
Two deputy prime ministers, Sar Kheng and Keat Chhon, have been assigned to organize public forums between villagers and government leaders, Hun Sen said.
The CPP lost 22 National Assembly seats in July’s election, dropping from 90 of 123 to 66. In a speech that lasted more than six hours, Hun Sen said the CPP would continue reforms on justice, land, agriculture, public servant salaries and other issues.
Opposition lawmaker elect Son Chhay called Hun Sen’s speech “demagoguery.”