WASHINGTON DC - A coalition of Cambodian civil society organizations have joined with the opposition and the US State Department to condemn the expulsion of 29 opposition lawmakers from the National Assembly.
The Assembly, dominated by ruling Cambodian People’s Party officials, moved to oust the opposition last week, claiming the lawmakers from the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties must give up their seats because they have now joined in a coalition party.
Election monitors say the move will seriously affect the July 28 national elections. The US State Department said in a statement the expulsion “starkly contradicts the spirit of a healthy democratic process.”
The lawmakers—26 from the Sam Rainsy Party and three from the Human Rights Party—were expelled without notice from the National Assembly, where the ruling Cambodian People’s Party holds 90 of 123 seats.
Critics of the move say it damages Cambodia’s democratic process and circumvents the will of voters. Ruling party officials say the parliamentarians gave up their seats when they joined the newly formed Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“It seriously affects the election,” said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, a watchdog group. “The National Assembly is the institution that represents democracy, and if the opposition is removed, it disappears as a big institution.” Opposition in parliament is the key to pluralism, he said.
“In a democratic process, there cannot be a group that wins a majority in the election, then interprets and applies the law for its own favor, to force the opposition out of parliament,” he said. “This is a problem wherein Cambodia is not paying attention to the democratic process.”
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said it is unlawful to expel members of parliament within six months of an election.
“It’s against the people’s will,” as well, he said, “because the members of parliament were selected by the people. They were not selected by the leaders of the CPP. This is a critical legal violation.”
On top of that, the National Assembly now lacks the 120 members necessary to legally do its work, he said.
Opposition lawmakers were not notified of their expulsion, he added. They heard it on the news, which reported it as a decision by National Assembly President Heng Samrin, a senior leader in the CPP.
Political observer Lao Mong Hay said the expulsion signaled a political interpretation of an administrative issue. Heng Samrin should have written individual letters to each lawmaker, with a copy sent to the financial office.
However, Chheang Vun, a ruling party lawmaker, told reporters Tuesday the expulsion was based on the law and constitution. With the change of the lawmakers to the Rescue Party, they lose their seats “automatically,” he said. “That’s because our election system is a proportional one.”
Legal analysts, however, say lawmakers cannot be expelled six months prior to ending their terms in office.
Critics of the move say it could be used to prevent the opposition from boycotting the election results, and it will hurt the opposition’s resources ahead of the election.