Sparks and Accusations Fly During CPP, CNRP Radio Debate

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay and CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun engaged in a heated radio debate on Sunday evening that descended into acrimony when both officials argued over the legitimacy of recent attempts by the ruling CPP to ban the opposition from sitting in the National Assembly.

The 47-minute discussion was punctuated by continuous interruptions and accusations on both sides with the moderator at one point turning Mr. Vun’s microphone off completely to allow him time to speak.

Moderator Chun Chanboth started the debate by asking Mr. Vun what the CPP would do if the CNRP boycotts the National Assembly amid allegations of irregularities at the polls.

Mr. Vun—who is also chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Media—said any boycott attempt by the CNRP would prove futile and used the example of the 2008 national election when opposition parties threatened a boycott over voter fraud but later joined Parliament anyway.

“The HRP [Human Rights Party] hurriedly ran to participate in the first session” after the 2008 election, Mr. Vun said. Continuing his jibes, Mr. Vun also said lawmakers from the HRP were late to attend the first plenary session back in 2008 and he even mocked their outfits.

“There were some people wearing black suits which violates the standards of the National Assembly,” he added.

In response, Mr. Chhay questioned the legality of expelling sitting opposition lawmakers from their seats. He was referring to events in June when 27 opposition lawmakers were expelled from the assembly after it was decided by CPP members that the election law and internal rules at the National Assembly prohibit lawmakers from holding membership in two parties at the same time. Both the Sam Rainsy Party and HRP had recently joined forces under the CNRP banner.

“I don’t know what law [the CPP] based the decision on to evict the sitting lawmakers from their seats at the National Assembly,” Mr. Chhay said as Mr. Vun repeatedly coughed and cleared his throat.

The moderator then asked Mr. Vun to explain the legal basis behind Prime Minister Hun Sen’s warning on Friday that his CPP could be allocated the 55 parliamentary seats recently won by the opposition.

“If any political party does not agree to participate in the meeting and boycott, the National Election Committee [NEC] has the full right to take those seats to share to other parties,” Mr. Vun said, defending Mr. Hun Sen’s claims.

But Mr. Chhay protested Mr. Vun’s viewpoint and cited from Article 118 of the election law, which states political parties must declare they are giving up their seats before the NEC can redistribute them.

As Mr. Chanboth attempted to read out the law for listeners of the radio show, Mr. Vun proceeded to call the moderator “unfair,” which resulted in the CPP lawmaker’s microphone being momentarily turned off.

“This is my program, this is not the National Assembly, Excellency. Please, turn off his microphone,” Mr. Chanboth said.

Any semblance of a civil discussion was out the window by the end of the show when Mr. Vun accused Mr. Chhay of swearing at him during a November Na­tional Assembly session when Mr. Vun called CNRP vice president Kem Sokha a “banong”—which is the name of an ethnic minority community in the northeast of the country but is used in Khmer as a pejorative term loosely meaning “savage” or “primitive.” Mr. Vun had used the term offensively after Mr. Sokha began talking about human rights issues in the country.

“Ok, I will be short,” Mr. Vun said. “Mr. Son Chhay said I used the word ‘banong’ at the National Assembly, but he said [expletive] to me first at the National Assembly,” he said.

“He also gave me the finger,” Mr. Vun said of Mr. Chhay.

Mr. Chhay denied swearing or making the offensive gesture in the National Assembly to which Mr. Vun insisted that the Assembly had documented the incident and proof was readily available.

The vitriolic exchange on radio sparked much discussion on Facebook on Monday, with hundreds of users sharing a sound file of the debate online, many of which praised Mr. Chanboth for trying to keep the lawmakers focused.

Still, Mr. Vun on Monday criticized Mr. Chanboth for his “biased management” of the radio debate.

“He ordered his subordinate to turn off my microphone. This has never been done in other countries. It is a violation of journalism ethics,” Mr. Vun said.

They “took me there to break my confidence, but I am not losing my confidence to tell the truth.”

Calling Mr. Vun’s debating style “very aggressive,” Mr. Chhay said Monday he had based his arguments on the law only.

“The Parliament must be open to debate. The opposition party must be allowed to speak out,” Mr. Chhay said.

(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)

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