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Opposition Boycotts Democracy Seminar

None of the 26 lawmakers of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party attended a UNDP-sponsored seminar at the National Assembly Thursday, including two men scheduled to speak, claiming the training would not strengthen democracy in the legislative body.

SRP lawmakers Son Chhay, who was scheduled to address the seminar on the role of opposition in a democratic parliament, and Yim Sovann, who was to speak on methods of parliamentary oversight, both refused to attend the second day of the two-day seminar.

The seminar was meant to train all lawmakers in their roles in a democracy, including the passage of legislation and responsibility to constituents.

“Our boycott is to send a message to the UNDP that the Cambodian National Assembly right now is not fully enough a democracy,” opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Thursday. “The opposition does not have any leadership role in the National Assembly, and the National Assembly right now belongs to the [ruling] party, not to the nation.”

UNDP said in an e-mailed statement Thursday it had a mandate “to promote democracy and support democratic processes.”

“As such we are working with the National Assembly, which is made up of democratically elected members of parliament, as we do with other democratic institutions,” UNDP said. “UNDP's role is one of a neutral partner who works with all political parties and democratic institutions to strengthen democracy.”

Following the inauguration of the National Assembly in September, lawmakers of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party were given control of all nine of the legislative body’s committees.

In the former National Assembly, which changed following elections in July, the Sam Rainsy Party’s Son Chhay and Yim Sovann held chairmanship of two committees.

The CPP now has 90 of the National Assembly’s 123 seats, followed by the Sam Rainsy Party’s 26, three by the Human Rights Party, and two each for Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party.

“If we join this program, it means we recognize the National Assembly’s not following democratic rules,” Sam Rainsy said. “We want to tell the UNDP to suspend this seminar… A UNDP that wants to help promote democracy should not recognize an institution that does not respect democracy.”