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‘Unacceptable’ Insult Leads to Opposition Walkout at National Assembly Session

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha.
Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha.

Some 20 opposition lawmakers walking out after they say they were insulted by ruling party members.

PHNOM PENH - A National Assembly session over nuclear security erupted into a war of words on the floor of the National Assembly Wednesday, with some 20 opposition lawmakers walking out after they say they were insulted by ruling party members.

The exchange occurred after Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, which holds three of 123 seats in the Assembly, was asked to speak. He said he supported a draft law on nuclear security, but he used his time at the pulpit to criticize the Assembly for not letting him speak to parliament at any other time since his July 2008 election.

Cheang Vun, head of the Assembly’s foreign affairs committee and a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, fired back, saying the opposition has done “nothing” for the people and was not well liked by voters.

“Have you built roads, bridges?” he asked. “No. Nothing.”

He then said Kem Sokha was acting like a “Phnong,” a minority group in the country, a slur against whom is associated with ignorance and poor education. Kem Sokha, who later called the slur “unacceptable,” then led a walkout of around 20 lawmakers.

He told reporters later he would try to meet with National Assembly President Heng Samrin to discuss the incident.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which holds 26 seats in the Assembly, called the insult “despicable.”

Ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yiep, who heads the Assembly’s finance committee, said he has requested the opposition lawmakers have their salaries revoked.

The incident underscores the vitriol that ruling and opposition party members have developed for each other, as the Cambodian People’s Party has increased its power in the Assembly and sidelined the opposition, following a landslide victory in the 2008 parliamentary elections. In those elections, the party won 90 seats, a super majority. Even with Wednesday’s walkout, the remaining ruling party members were able to pass the draft law, which is designed to prevent the global spread of nuclear weapons.