‘Culture of Dialogue’ Faces Official Demise

To the extent that it ever existed, the “culture of dialogue” between the opposition and ruling parties is on its way to the chopping block today with the CPP shrugging off a CNRP boycott as it moves to erase legislative rules that formalized the rapprochement.

“It doesn’t matter whether they boycott the session or vote against the proposed amendment,” said Leng Peng Long, spokesman and secretary-general for the National Assembly. “It will not have any impact as members of parliament from the CPP have enough voices for voting to amend the proposed changes in the internal rules.”

Lawmakers attend a session of the National Assembly in 2015 in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The changes hinge on a legislative provision hashed out during post-election negotiations in 2014 to create a “minority group”—similar to a formal opposition party in parliament—with a minority leader who could negotiate with the ruling party’s leaders, ostensibly with a rank equal to prime minister.

Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested gutting the provision earlier this month out of frustration with the CNRP’s repeated attempts to negotiate the release of prisoners widely seen as political pawns.

At a meeting on Monday, the CNRP vowed to boycott today’s Assembly session, in which the removal of the minority party provision would be put to a vote, and instead hold a rival press conference explaining its stance.

“Firstly, we don’t support removing it since it’s not reasonable to remove it,” said opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, head of the CNRP’s parliamentary group. “Secondly, the amendment will make the process and work at the National Assembly walk backward.”

The government’s crackdown on the opposition officials and critics—rights group Licadho says more than 30 political prisoners have been jailed since May 2015—appeared to reverse course toward the end of last year as acting opposition leader Kem Sokha was granted a royal pardon at the request of Mr. Hun Sen.

The opposition remained hopeful that a December 7 meeting between Mr. Sokha and Mr. Hun Sen would secure the prompt release of five current and former officials for rights group Adhoc, who were swept up in the same “prostitution” case that ensnared Mr. Sokha.

But the “Adhoc Five” have remained jailed and a letter leaked earlier this month allegedly exposed CPP plans to use the prisoners as a wedge to split Mr. Sokha from exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, though both parties distanced themselves from the document.

CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday, but on Thursday echoed Mr. Hun Sen’s rationale for cutting the provisions. He said the CNRP was out of line to ask for the ruling party to intervene in a court case.

“They didn’t write it in a written letter, but they requested through a telephone conversation,” he said.

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