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Immunity Challenge Abuse of Power: Observers

The recent stripping of immunity for opposition leader Sam Rainsy amounts to the wrongful application of the law, civil society and opposition lawmakers said Monday.

The Permanent Committee of the National Assembly voted to revoke Sam Rainsy’s immunity late last month, when the opposition leader failed to pay election campaign fines.

His immunity was restored last week, after the $2,500 in fines were paid, but observers say the vote against it displayed political pressure by ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which won a landslide victory in 2008 National Assembly elections and has all 12 seats of the Permanent Committee.

“The suspension of the immunity of…Sam Rainsy is against the constitution,” said Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition party. “It affects the role of opposition lawmakers and it lessens democracy.”

Until the recent vote, no lawmaker since the 1993 founding of the Kingdom of Cambodia had seen immunity revoked only by the Permanent Committee. Sam Rainsy and SRP lawmaker Cheam Channy had their immunity pulled by a full National Assembly session vote a few years ago.

“We doubt the application of the law” in the most recent vote, said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections. “For this type of fault, [immunity suspension] should not be executed in this way.”

CPP officials say the constitution allows the Permanent Committee to vote on immunity.

The vote was made under Article 80 of the constitution, said CPP lawmaker Chheang Von.

“According to the article, the Permanent Committee can suspend or take away the immunity of a member of parliament when the National Assembly is on leave,” he said.

The full National Assembly was out of session at the time Sam Rainsy’s immunity was stripped.

Chheang Von denied concerns from civil society and the opposition of a CPP abuse of authority.

“If the CPP were making pressure, Sam Rainsy should receive double the fine, for trying to avoid paying his fine to the NEC,” he said.