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Ruling Party Ousts Opposition Vice President From National Assembly Position

Opposition leader of Cambodia National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy, center, delivers a speech next to his Deputy President Kem Sokha, right, during a gathering to mark Human Rights Day, in front of National Assembly, in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Rescue Party officials said Friday the move was unconstitutional, and all 55 of their lawmakers boycotted the vote.

Lawmakers of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party stripped an opposition lawmaker from a senior post at the National Assembly on Friday, further widening a rift between the two sides that has grown in recent months.

The 68 lawmakers voted to remove Kem Sokha from his post as National Assembly vice president, claiming he had caused friction between the ruling party and opposition and made speeches that are a threat to the county’s national security.

Kem Sokha, who is also the vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, is an outspoken critic of the ruling party. Rescue Party officials said Friday the move was unconstitutional, and all 55 of their lawmakers boycotted the vote.

CPP officials said Kem Sokha had “attacked” the party and had undermined the relationship between the two sides. They also said Friday’s vote was constitutional.

However, Son Soubert, a former member of the Constitutional Council and head of the Human Rights Party, disagreed. “When they appoint someone through an election, they cannot remove that person from a post unless he or she committed wrongdoings, such as criminal acts. His Excellency Kem Sokha did not commit anything that violated the internal orders or the constitution. I think the move to remove Kem Sokha from his post is related to a regime of tyranny.”

The Rescue Party has emerged as a strong political opponent to the CPP, which has held power for decades. Both sides are gearing up for elections in 2017 and 2018.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has recently been a more vocal critic of the opposition, claiming its leader, Sam Rainsy, should face jail for posting border documents online, and also supporting anti-opposition protests this week that led to the beatings of two Rescue Party lawmakers.

Human Rights Watch said this week the violent attacks were reminiscent of a CPP crackdown on political opponents in the 1990s.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong met with around 30 foreign embassy officials on Friday, in an apparent bid to explain the political situation in Cambodia. Reporters were not allowed in on the meeting, which took place just hours after Kem Sokha’s ouster, and no one from the Foreign Ministry offered a briefing afterward.