CNRP lawmakers spent more time out in the provinces last year, a fact that government watchdog Comfrel chalks up, at least in part, to threats and harassment from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party keeping them out of the National Assembly.
Subjected to what was widely perceived as state-backed persecution, the Cambodia National Rescue Party last year saw two of its lawmakers bashed outside parliament; its deputy leader, Kem Sokha, dismissed as the assembly’s first vice president; and its president, Sam Rainsy, forced into self-imposed exile to avoid prison.
Released yesterday, Comfrel’s annual National Assembly and Parliamentarian Watch report draws a link between the crackdown and the CNRP’s eagerness to hit the road, finding the removal of the opposition’s top brass from the parliament, and the party’s ensuing boycott, left “little work to be done” at the assembly.
This freed “up more time for them to make field visits”, the report, released at a round-table discussion, states.
Looking at the numbers, 42 CNRP lawmakers made 774 field trips, while 49 CPP parliamentarians made just 230, with the report noting that some ruling party MPs neglected their duties on the assumption government officials would cover for them.
Attending the report’s launch, CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith said the judiciary’s lack of independence left opposition MPs vulnerable.
“We have immunity, legal protection, but the court system doesn’t implement the law effectively; there’s a chance people will use violence against us, and that frightens CNRP lawmakers,” Chanrith said.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin declined to comment on the report, but dismissed claims opposition party members were at risk. “If there is abuse against MPs . . . the perpetrators will not escape,” he said, noting that three men had been arrested for the attack on CNRP parliamentarians Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea.
Several men can be seen participating in the beating on October 26.
Kem Chhorn, who runs Comfrel’s monitoring program, said the authorities must protect all lawmakers to allow them to do their work.
In other findings, the watchdog’s team found more lawmakers expressed their opinions during plenary sessions last year, which covered 25 agenda items.
But though the time spent debating increased by about eight hours, the quality of debate was still lacking. The report singled out the election reform package – including the law establishing the National Election Committee and laws regulating national and commune elections – as a case in point.
“The three aforementioned laws were passed over without any debate on its (sic) legal essence.”