>Flawless new Parliament session in Cambodia

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MPs posed in front of National Assembly building with the king (rihgt in suit).


24 Sept. 2008
By Duong Sokha and Ros Dina
Ka-set
Unofficial translation from French by Tola Ek
Click here to read the article in French
Click here to read the article in Khmer

The inaugural session of the fourth Parliament held in the morning of Wednesday 24 September at the National Assembly, presided by the king, as well as the swearing-in ceremony of the elected MPs at the Royal Palace at 4:00 PM on the same day, went without a hitch for the very first time. With the exception of Kem Sokha’s HRP, all political parties sent in all their elected MPs, i.e. 119 out of a total of 123 MPs. On Wednesday, Prime minister Hun Sen, who was re-appointed to his PM position by King Sihamoni, called the day a “historical” one, noting that the morning meeting took place for the first time in the in the NA building under the presence of the “new” king Sihamoni who was crowned in 2004. The day also marked the 15th anniversary of the kingdom’s Constitution and it bore another symbolic meaning to the events of the day. King Sihamoni congratulated Hun Sen and the other MPs for their NA nomination, and he said that he hopes the fourth mandate Parliament will accomplish a good job.

Conditions imposed by the Opposition

“Yesterday [Tuesday], before 7 PM, it was heard that the SRP and the HRP would boycott today’s ceremony,” Hun Sen noted at a press conference held at the end of the morning ceremony. He then discussed about the negotiations led that Tuesday evening between the opposition leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, and Kith Meng, the CPP’s mediator sent in by Hun Sen.

Hun Sen added: “Among the conditions imposed by the opposition is the adoption of a proposal for a new [NA] internal rule that they have drafted. I let them know, through Oknha Kith Meng, that the NA cannot adopt a proposal which has not been examined yet. To amend the internal rule, an ad-hoc committee must be set up and the latter will send in its conclusions to the Parliament law committee, and then after this latter’s exam, it will send the text to the NA permanent committee which will then summon a debate session.”

According to Hun Sen, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had also called for the government to recognize the role of parties not appointed in the government. “On this point, I am personally its guarantor,” Hun Sen assured.

On the other hand, Hun Sen did not agree to the opposition request that the five parties having seats at the NA sign a common declaration. “I told Mr. Oknha Kith Meng that it was a dumb and impudent maneuver which hold the parties as hostages, and that this would be no more no less than a political declaration. Its signing would be contrary to the NA internal rule,” Hun Sen indicated. Hun Sen added that this declaration includes among others, the engagement by political parties to participate in the first NA session, the strengthening of public institutions, but also, an amendment to the election law and a reform of the National Election Committee (NEC) so that all competing political parties could recognize the election results – a contentious point for Hun Sen.

SRP last minute decision

It was at daybreak on Wednesday that SRP MPs decided that they will join the day’s ceremony. Hun Sen personally thanked them for their participation.

Son Chhay, the SRP spokesman, explained that the resolution to abandon the boycott was subject to the last negotiations held with Kith Meng. “Hun Sen had accepted to create a working group to revise the NA internal rule, as our party had asked. We had also demanded reforms allowing the opposition to have a guaranteed official role at the NA. I find this good, this system is in practice in several democratic countries. It will be written in black and white in the NA internal rule. The opposition leader will be officially nominated by the king and he will be allotted a special budget to lead the opposition,” said a delighted Son Chhay.

Son Chhay added that the other amendment to the NA internal rule demanded by the opposition is the fact that parties with small number of Parliament seats, i.e. those with less than 10 seats, could have their voice heard on the floor during debates, as such was not the case in the past.

“We are promoting the national interest first, in front of personal interest and of those of our party. The situation requires them, Cambodia is currently at a critical junction with the invasion of Thai armed forces and a galloping inflation…,” Son Chhay explained while indicating that his party did not ask for the presidency of any Parliament committee, but that the SRP requested that the NA internal rule be respected.

Son Chhay also insisted on the fact that, since 1993, this is the first time that all MPs came to the NA inaugural session. In 2003, the SRP MPs boycotted this session.

HRP absence

“When I shook Sam Rainsy’s hand [this morning], I asked him why Kem Sokha was not there. He told me that he did not know. Their alliance is no longer upheld? Who cheated who? Maybe Kem Sokha was held back by a traffic jam and arrived too late?” Hun Sen speculated.

Kem Sokha clarified: “We were not late! We did not go, just like what we announced because our claims were not heard. We will start working normally this Friday,” Kem Sokha explained. The HRP won 3 seats at the NA.

When asked about the robustness of the alliance between the SRP and the HRP, Son Chhay assured that nothing change. “Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha was negotiating together yesterday evening, and both wanted to have a common declaration by all the parties represented at the NA in view of a national reconciliation, and a strengthening of democracy with the existence of pluralism.”

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