The new National Assembly convened Wednesday morning to officially begin the fourth government mandate with King Norodom Sihamoni opening the session attended by lawmakers from the CPP, Funcinpec, the Norodom Ranariddh Party, and, despite having vowed to stay away, the SRP.
The three lawmakers from the Human Rights Party, however, held fast to their decision to boycott the Assembly meeting and the lawmaker swearing-in ceremony at the Royal Palace on Wednesday afternoon.
Lawmakers trickled in early in the morning dressed in formal outfits consisting of a white shirt, iridescent green pantaloons and knee-high socks, slowly filling up the Assembly chamber to await King Sihamoni.
Just moments before the King’s arrival, lawmakers from the SRP arrived in a group, briskly crossing the Assembly grounds and quickly signing in to join the session.
The opposition legislators chose to dress in Western-style business attire, reportedly because their last-minute decision to attend left them unable to acquire the traditional garb adopted by other lawmakers.
The SRP’s appearance was a major reversal from what party president Sam Rainsy has been saying for weeks and had reiterated Tuesday: that his party would not be attending the opening session in protest of alleged election irregularities that the opposition claims cost them seats and benefited the ruling CPP.
The SRP also participated in the swearing-in ceremony at the Royal Palace in the afternoon, though just 24 hours earlier, Sam Rainsy had insisted his party would not be sworn in with the CPP and would hold an alternate ceremony Friday instead.
King Sihamoni opened the session with a brief speech exhorting the lawmakers to work hard toward the goal of development and to place national interests first.
“I hope the fourth mandate will be a success for the sake of the country and the people,” King Sihamoni said.
After his speech, the King exited the Assembly building and posed for a photograph with the 119 lawmakers on hand before leaving for the Palace.
The lawmakers then returned to the Assembly chamber and in a short session voted to approve the internal regulations of the parliament and also accepted their parliamentary immunity.
Following the meeting, Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed reporters in the foyer of the Assembly building and immediately addressed the issue of the SRP’s decision to join the session.
Hun Sen said the SRP had come to the session following marathon negotiations Tuesday evening that lasted until 1 am. The premier also said he ultimately agreed with Sam Rainsy’s request to amend the National Assembly’s internal rules.
Last month, SRP lawmaker Son Chhay sent a draft of the internal regulations to the CPP that included changes desired by the SRP. Chief among the changes was a recognition of the rights of the opposition, which included a formula for determining how many Assembly commission chairmanships each seat-holding party would receive.
Neither Hun Sen nor the SRP specified what amendments had been agreed to, but the prime minister said they were not included in the regulations approved by the Assembly on Wednesday and that the issue of chairmanships had not yet been worked out.
“[The SRP] have many conditions, including one to amend the National Assembly internal regulations to restore their reputation. They have not discussed about the commission chairmen or deputy chairmen [positions],” Hun Sen told reporters.
“What they want is that the opposition party must be recognized by the government,” the prime minister said.
Hun Sen added that before Wednesday’s session he had met with the CPP permanent committee to mull over the SRP request and that they had agreed to take it into consideration.
“I have guaranteed that I will include in the internal regulations that non-ruling parties are recognized by the government,” he said.
The prime minister also thanked the SRP for choosing to approve the internal regulations minus any amendments Wednesday, saying it displayed their “lawmaker knowledge.”
Contacted after the session, Sam Rainsy refused to comment on why his party had abruptly abandoned its planned boycott.
SRP Deputy Secretary-General Mu Sochua said by telephone that the party had decided at 6 am Wednesday to attend the session because of the assurances by the prime minister that the “opposition party’s role would be recognized.”
Mu Sochua did not detail what that role would consist of, but said the draft changes had already been submitted to CPP lawmaker Heng Samrin, who is set to be renamed Assembly president oon Thursday.
Hun Sen added that he had shaken hands with Sam Rainsy at Wednesday’s meeting and had inquired of him why HRP President Kem Sokha had not attended the session.
“[Sam Rainsy] said he did not know why Kem Sokha did not come…. If he says he does not know, I will let them work it out,” Hun Sen said.
“This is a life-and-death alliance. One came and another didn’t—I don’t know who cheated who. If Kem Sokha did not come and Sam Rainsy came, it means that the alliance is split.”
HRP Secretary-General Yem Ponhearith said officials from his party had met with the SRP on Wednesday morning but decided to stay away from the Assembly anyway. He added that the SRP’s decision to attend had not had an effect on the alliance between the two parties.
“There is still no solution to our demands. This is the party’s decision,” he said of the HRP’s boycott of Wednesday’s events.
“We will continue our alliance [with the SRP]. I don’t feel that they cheated us—we respect the [SRP’s] decision.”
Mu Sochua also said her party will continue to work with the HRP.
Following Wednesday’s session, King Sihamoni also formally named Hun Sen as prime minister for the fourth mandate, which authorizes him to now form his cabinet.
The Assembly is set to vote on the establishment of the new government today.
Mu Sochua said by telephone Wednesday evening that despite attending the first session, the SRP had decided to not take part in the goverment formation vote because of its election grievances and the party’s rejection of today’s planned “package vote,” by which the whole cabinet is set to be approved in a single vote rather than on an appointee-by-appointee basis.
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