WASHINGTON DC - Opposition leaders are urging ruling party lawmakers to reconsider the expulsion of 29 parliamentarians from the National Assembly earlier this month, a move that has drawn heavy criticism from the US and others.
Ruling party officials say the expulsion was legal, since the parliamentarians switched to another party, thereby giving up their seats. Opponents say lawmakers cannot legally be expelled from the Assembly within six months of their terms ending.
The US State Department called the expulsion harmful to Cambodia’s democratic process, where “full participation of all elected representatives is essential.” Ruling party officials then called the US position unacceptable.
However, former speaker at the National Assembly, Son Soubert, who is the current head of the Human Rights Party, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday that the US has a right to issue statements on the Assembly, since it was an initiator of the Paris Peace Accords that helped form the Cambodian government.
“They paid a lot of money, the US and the EU, for the existence of the democracy in Cambodia,” he said.
Cambodia’s democratic system is supposed to be designed so that one party does not have control of the process, he said. “The communist parties, they control their members and they do whatever they wish to,” he said.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, who also joined “Hello VOA” on Thursday, agreed. If the ruling Cambodian People’s Party takes full control of the National Assembly, it will be “like in the 1980s,” he said, alluding to a time when Cambodia was under the control of the communist Vietnamese government.
He called for more support of the newly formed opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, considering the expulsion of lawmakers from the Assembly.
“Then we can discuss and organize things back on the track to democracy, which means clearly dividing power—the legislative branch, the executive branch, the judicial branch,” he said. “That’s to avoid the mixing between the state and its parties, like in a socialist regime that disturbs people.”
The National Assembly and its parliamentarians are supposed to represent the will of the people, he said. In a pluralized Assembly, parties are represented in committees, and people’s complaints are addressed. Members of parliament are then supposed to address problems within government, “to gather together without thinking about the party, to oust bad ministers and make people feel warm,” he said. “It is also to make powerful officials work properly.”
The recent expulsion of opposition lawmakers is a first for the National Assembly, he said, calling it “strange” and unconstitutional.
Legal experts say the constitution does not allow for the dismissal of lawmakers within six months of the end of their mandate, which in this case would be the July 28 elections.
Son Chhay called the expulsion a “constitutional crisis.”
Ruling party officials disagree.
Chheang Vun, a ruling party lawmaker, told reporters this week that the expulsion was constitutional, because the opposition lawmakers joined with the Rescue Party, thereby giving up their seats.
Son Chhay said Thursday he is now seeking a way to complain to the Constitutional Council, although it typically sides with the CPP.