Parliament Says Shadow Cabinet Plans Are Illegal

The CNRP’s plan to form a shadow cabinet is illegal and will not be allowed by authorities, National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said on Wednesday, prompting the opposition lawmaker in charge of the idea to say the party would just not call it that.

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay announced the plans to name a group of shadow ministers at the party’s headquarters on Tuesday, saying it was necessary for fellow lawmakers to develop skills to run the government. Mr. Peng Long said, however, that there was no legal basis for such an activity and that only the government could name a cabinet.

CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang speaks outside the party's headquarters in June. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang speaks outside the party’s headquarters in June. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“It’s illegal, and no laws in Cambodia allow parties to create a shadow cabinet,” Mr. Peng Long said. “The National Assembly will not recognize what they are doing, and there will be action from the government.”

Although such opposition cabinets exist in other parliamentary systems, Mr. Peng Long said, “please don’t compare other countries’ laws with Cambodia—we have our own laws. I believe the government or the Interior Ministry will take action.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached. CPP spokesman Suos Yara said he did not yet have an opinion on the issue.

“I don’t understand what they are doing,” Mr. Yara said. “The important thing is that they follow the law.”

Mr. Chhay said the CNRP would just not call what it was creating a “shadow cabinet,” and instead appoint lawmakers to policy areas as the party’s spokespeople for those portfolios.

“The question in this country is, will the government understand the rights of any party to prepare themselves for when they win an election, so that they can run the country effectively?” Mr. Chhay asked.

“Instead of sitting around arguing about the right to do so…we will create more spokespeople,” he said.

When the opposition last attempted a shadow cabinet in 2005, the lawmaker placed in charge of the defense portfolio, Cheam Channy, was jailed for sedition after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of raising a “shadow army” to topple the government.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the lack of laws about the creation of an opposition cabinet did not mean that the practice was thereby illegal.

“We should not interpret that to mean that parties cannot make their own working groups or commissions to do some work with the National Assembly commissions, or to try to learn how to become a government,” he said.

Mr. Panha said that the government’s reflexive fear on the issue was born of the 1980s civil war, when then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk led a rival “coalition government” of U.S.- and China-backed forces along the Thai border opposing Phnom Penh.

“The argument about ‘shadow government’ is sensitive, because during the civil war there was a shadow government—there were two governments—and they argue that if you create a shadow government, people don’t understand it,” Mr. Panha said.

“But it’s not a civil war anymore. The opposition has the right to learn to become a real government. They can act as spokespeople, so when they become the government, they will have the capacity to work on policy,” he said. “It should be encouraged.”

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