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Assembly Skews Toward Ruling Party, Rights Advocate Says

Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
The National Assembly should review some of its internal policies that lead to “anti-democratic” practices, a leading rights advocate says.

Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told “Hello VOA” Monday that current regulations only allow an “absolute majority” to adopt internal measures, giving too much power to the ruling party and depriving smaller parties of participation, he said.

The same holds true for selecting leaders of the Assembly’s committees, giving the opposition little hope of holding a committee chair, he said.

The current Assembly is comprised only of 68 lawmakers from the Cambodian People’s Party. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has so far boycotted the legislative body, claiming elections in July 2013 were marred by fraud.

Ou Virak said that during normal parliamentary times, committees should be able to hold hearings with government officials, publicly, to question the executive branch and empower the opposition. There should also be provisions for debates of laws that would allow more participation from the opposition, in committees, for example, he said.

In general, more transparency, competition and publicity will increase fairness, he said. “Then people are able to judge and make decisions,” he said. “This is a crucial point.”

Yem Ponharith, a Rescue Party spokesman, agreed that internal regulations should be amended.

Procedures for debate also need to change, he said. Right now, smaller parties are required to form a caucus of 10 before they can speak during a debate. This forces them often to join with the other party, despite their differences on a matter.

There also need to be stricter measures for ensuring government officials come when summoned.

“When lawmakers invite a minister or the prime minister to answer questions in parliament, as the rules permit, but they don’t show up, there is no punishment,” he said. “This gives the executive branch a lot of freedom, to choose either to come or not.”