The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) submitted a letter to National Assembly President Heng Samrin on Thursday requesting that debate of a contentious law on the denial of Khmer Rouge crimes be delayed until a new National Assembly is formed following parliamentary elections on July 28.
The call from SRP and Human Rights Party lawmakers, who are running as candidates for the newly formed CNRP in the upcoming ballot, came a day after they were informed that the National Assembly standing committee, made up of 12 members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP, had decided to strip all 27 opposition lawmakers of their parliamentary membership for being members of two different political parties.
“We would like to suggest to the president to postpone the debate and adoption of the draft Law on the Denial of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea until the completion of the general elections, so that the National Assembly can make a proper law,” the letter reads.
Prime Minister Hun Sen first raised the idea of the law in a speech on May 27, after CNRP acting president Kem Sokha allegedly claimed that atrocities committed at the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 prison were actually staged by Vietnam. The government released the recording of Mr. Sokha’s comments.
The CNRP’s letter also suggests a number of amendments to the draft law that would preclude former leading members of the Khmer Rouge movement from holding public office.
“Stipulate in the draft that leaders of the Khmer Rouge do not get high positions in the state as leaders of the Senate, National Assembly and Prime Minister,” states the letter, which was obviously aimed at the country’s three top leaders.
Mr. Hun Sen, along with Mr. Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim, were all Khmer Rouge members before defecting to join Vietnamese forces shortly before toppling the Pol Pot regime.
Senior CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said that Mr. Samrin and his CPP colleagues would not take the letter into consideration since the CNRP members were no longer part of the National Assembly.
“They are no longer lawmakers in the National Assembly. We are not thinking about [their request] because it could give us a headache,” he said.
“We will still hold the debate on the law tomorrow [Friday]. We have another party joining the debate—Funcinpec,” Mr. Vun said.
The two Funcinpec members of Parliament are closely aligned with the CPP, which possesses 90 of the National Assembly’s 123 seats. All but two of the remaining 31 parliamentarians, including two members of the now dissolved Norodom Ranariddh Party, were removed from their positions by the permanent committee on Wednesday.
While Cambodia’s Law on the Election of National Assembly Members and the Constitution states that lawmakers who leave their seat, for any reason, more than six months before an election may be replaced by their party, legal experts are varied on whether lawmakers who leave their seat within the six-month timeframe can be replaced.
But the Constitution clearly states that the National Assembly must have at least 120 members, making any law passed in the current 93-member National Assembly illegal and illegitimate, said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
“The National Assembly has to have at least 120 members to be legitimate,” he said.
Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, agreed with Mr. Panha, but stressed that regardless of its constitutionality, the decision by the CPP lawmakers to exclude their opposition colleagues from debate over an important law was simply unjust.
“On one hand you have constitutionality, and on the other hand you have legitimacy, which is sometimes more important than legality,” Mr. Virak said, noting that the “Khmer Rouge had laws” too, and everyone knows what happened as a result.
“The timing before elections to apply internal rules to strip membership of opposition party members is really not appropriate or legitimate. Especially in light of debating a controversial law the next day, it’s a really awkward and inappropriate action,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)
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