The ruling CPP and opposition CNRP sat together in the National Assembly for the first time Friday, formalizing the addition of the Assembly’s new commission on anti-corruption and putting forth their plans for what the parties say is a new culture of political cooperation.
Longtime rivals Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy addressed the chamber during the first two-party session of the fifth mandate, with the prime minister appearing to open the door for the opposition leader to construct a platform for criticism within parliament.
The first order of business for the Assembly was an amendment to Article 6 of the Internal Rules of the National Assembly—giving birth to the tenth commission on investigation and anti-corruption, which the CNRP will chair as part of the July 22 deal cut between Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Rainsy.
At the center of that deal was a complete overhaul of the existing CPP-controlled National Election Committee, which will require votes in parliament to pass changes to the election law, elect new electoral commissioners and amend the Constitution.
Mr. Hun Sen said that Friday’s session marked the beginning of an extended reform process.
“Today, it is just the start of a long process together,” the prime minister said.
“We will pass [the amendment] and then continue to constitutional law, the law on the processes of the National Election Committee, election reform and, finally, vote to elect the National Election Committee,” he said.
With the opposition now officially in parliament, the results of the July 2013 national election—which independent observers say was skewed in the favor of the CPP—have effectively been legitimized. For the past year, the CNRP has insisted that it actually won an election in which the CPP suffered a major blow to its popularity.
After months of demonstrations—peaking in late December when tens of thousands took to the streets every day for more than a week calling for the resignation of Mr. Hun Sen—the prime minister told the Assembly on Friday that a mutual respect should now prevail.
“I hope that, starting from now, attacking each other in any way should be reduced. In fact, freedom of speech should be respected, but it also has limits,” the prime minister said.
“For example, I cannot accept the condemnation that I am a foreign puppet, especially calling [me] a yuon puppet, please don’t say that,” he said, using the Khmer word for Vietnamese, which is often employed in racist rhetoric by opposition politicians and their supporters.
Mr. Rainsy, who has long politicized issues related to the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia and accused Mr. Hun Sen of being beholden to the government that installed him as prime minister about three decades ago, also spoke in parliament of a new dawn in Cambodia.
“Today, we can announce that the political crisis in Cambodia is finished,” Mr. Rainsy said in his first address to the bipartisan parliament before going on to talk about the spirit of the July 22 agreement he struck with Mr. Hun Sen.
“To guarantee the implementation of this agreement both parties must carry it out with optimism, honesty and belief in each other, even though we will be met with obstacles and difficulties,” he said.
Since July 22, Mr. Rainsy has spoken about his faith that the CPP will make good on the deal, which was quickly followed by the release from prison of seven CNRP lawmakers and a party activist charged with leading an insurrection and incitement to commit a felony following a July 15 brawl at Freedom Park.
However, between the deal being struck and the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers being sworn-in by King Sihamoni at the Royal Palace on August 5, another three CNRP Youth activists were arrested on charges related to the brawl, in which opposition protesters viciously retaliated against district security guards wielding wooden clubs.
Mr. Rainsy has said in the past week that, in “the spirit of the deal,” the release of the three was imminent, and that Mr. Hun Sen understands “that he must not make us frustrated.” However, the three remained in prison as of Friday evening.
Neither their lawyer Sam Sokong nor Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Keo Mony could be reached for comment Friday.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said: “I believe that they will be released very soon. That is all I will say.”
Mr. Rainsy said in parliament Friday that it was time to put an end to a culture of violence and revenge.
The opposition leader drew on a Khmer proverb—When the water rises, the fish eat the ants. When the water recedes, the ants eat the fish—which is often used by Mr. Hun Sen.
“We are all not fish, we are humans—the same as each other,” Mr. Rainsy said. “We are all the same Khmer. We must live together and work together. We must cooperate to protect our nation and develop our nation and we must work together all the time until we die.”
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