The Cambodia National Rescue Party’s chief whip, Son Chhay, has denied reports that the opposition is setting up a shadow cabinet following suggestions from officials that such a move would be illegal.
Instead, the CNRP is forming 10 commissions that will cover the functions of government in parallel to ones that already exist in parliament – and which CNRP lawmakers chair – in order to “do research and compile the policies of the party” ahead of the next general election in 2018.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said the ruling Cambodian People’s Party was skeptical of the motives behind forming the commissions, when the CNRP already has members assigned to the parliamentary commissions.
“The formation of a unit or institution which is the same as state institutions would mean there was a state within a state. That can’t happen…they would be formed in a private and illegal manner,” he said.
He added that if the CNRP wanted to form a shadow cabinet similar to those in other parliamentary democracies, where lawmakers are given policy positions that mirror the ministerial posts of government, then it should enter into negotiations with the CPP.
Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, said a functioning shadow cabinet would allow for greater transparency and scrutiny of the affairs of state.
“There are a lot of benefits to forming [a shadow cabinet] because it makes the competition [between parties] more serious,” he said.
Gen. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, on Thursday said the government would need to review the constitutional basis for the proposition, adding that while the opposition had not announced it had formed a shadow cabinet, in practice “they have done it”.
Cambodian officials have a history of aversion to the idea of an effective opposition organizing its members to scrutinize the work of government ministries.
In 2005, opposition politician Cheam Channy was arrested and charged with sedition after being given the portfolio of shadow defense minister. Prime Minister Hun Sen had accused Channy of seeking to overthrow the government by raising a “shadow army”.