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Experts Discuss Legitimacy of Government Without Opposition

Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy, center, of the Cambodia National Rescue Party waves along with his party Vice President Kem Sokha, third from left, during a march in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, March 30, 2014.
Diplomats, legal experts and political analysts all met in a forum in Phnom Penh Tuesday to discuss the implications of last year’s election and the ongoing political deadlock.

Some diplomats, like Dinesh Patnaik, India’s ambassador to Cambodia, questioned the legitimacy of a government the opposition refuses to join.

“The result of elections has been announced and members of parliament have been constituted, but [the Cambodia National Rescue Party] did not join the parliament,” he said. “As Cambodia is a multiparty system, but the other party does not join, I'm asking on my own, in a strictly legal sense, how is it legitimate?”

He and others discussed the government at a forum sponsored by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.

“You can take it from a legal point of view, but you cannot isolate the question whether or not this election is free and fair,” the institute’s executive director, Pou Sothirak, said. “If one has accepted the election as free and fair, there should not be a question of legitimacy of this parliament because, legally speaking, the king opened it, and you can see all the legal procedures are done in a legal format. But the debate over free and fair election still remains. It is still in the mind of many Cambodians. Many Cambodians who cast their votes still question, is the election free and fair?”

Rescue Party officials say the 2013 election was marred by fraud and irregularities, and they have refused to join the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in the National Assembly. Still, the CPP have been holding sessions and passing legislation without the opposition.

Lao Mong Hay, an independent political analyst, said this makes the current National Assembly a “de facto” parliament.

“It exists, but it has not matured yet,” he said. “The government is a de facto government, not a de juris government. In this sense, we are all living in a de facto state of emergency. If I go out of here, I could be arrested any time. They forbid demonstrations—on what basis? A state of emergency declared by our king? No. Declared by our prime minister? No.”

Chheang Vannarith, a lecturer at the University of Leeds and a senior research fellow at CICP, said he believes public pressure will ultimately push both parties to resolve the political stalemate, addressing the controversial legitimacy issue at the same time.

“Both parties have been exhausted, and the people demand an immediate solution,” he said. “Continuous deadlock can affect social security, and we don't want to see a fragmented society. So it is a requirement that the political parties reach a negotiated agreement to address the deadlock.”

Meanwhile, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party opened a new session at the National Assembly Tuesday, bringing its 66 members to parliament without the opposition and planning to debate at least two laws.

Mu Sochua, a Rescue Party lawmaker-elect, said any law passed without the opposition “is not legitimate.”