The Human Rights Party’s Kem Sokha says efforts to muzzle the opposition during parliamentary debate hurts democracy
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2008 01:51:40 -0800 (PST)
Voice from the wilderness
Written by Neth Pheaktra
Monday, 29 December 2008
The Human Rights Party’s Kem Sokha says efforts to muzzle the
opposition during parliamentary debate hurts democracy
With only three lawmakers, your party has no right to speak in the
National Assembly. What is your position on this issue?
The Human Rights Party still claims a full right of expression within
the National Assembly, as a voice of the minority. We may only be
three parliamentarians, but we still represent the 40,000 people who
gave us their vote.
In the National Assembly, we empower the minority by placing checks
and balances on the country's leadership. But if the ruling party
monopolises speaking time, we lose these checks and balances that are
so essential in a democracy.
The internal rules of the National Assembly specify that lawmakers
need to form groups of at least 10 members in order to speak.
But we must ask who created this rule and why. Was it to promote or to
reduce freedom of expression? Cambodia's Constitution emphasises
freedom of expression of the Cambodian people and the lawmakers who
represent them, and when we make a law we must respect the
We will continue to push for an amendment of the internal rules of the
National Assembly. When the CPP wants to amend a law, everything goes
smoothly for them. But why can we not revise rules if this revision
would promote freedom and democracy? Some CPP lawmakers tell us we
must respect the law, which is easier said than done. We respect the
law, but it must be good law.
What is the reaction of your supporters?
The Cambodian people are very unhappy, but I tried to calm them and
wait for a resolution. But the CPP behaves disrespectfully because it
won 90 seats in the Assembly. If no solution is found, our 40,000
supporters will be very angry, and we will continue to struggle for an
amendment. I don't want to worry the Cambodian people, but why is the
CPP so worried about our three HRP lawmakers?
According to the internal rules of the National Assembly, if a
minority party cannot form a group of 10, it should join another party
group in order to be able to speak.
THE RULING PARTY MUST GIVE A VOICE TO THE OPPOSITION AND MINOR GROUPS
IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.
Why doesn't the HRP do it?
We don't join another party because we want to preserve our party's
identity. This requirement is wrong in a liberal democracy, and it
shows that the National Assembly is not a pluralistic parliament.
Here, the big party dominates the small party.
But smaller parties should be able to express themselves regardless of
how many parliamentarians it has.
We have also suggested that lawmakers from other parties should be
able to form a group with us, and speak with a common voice.
Why do you think these rules are in place?
Parliaments in other countries oblige lawmakers to form groups in
order to manage speaking time more easily. But most of these
parliaments are divided into ruling parties and opposition, not into
groups as in Cambodia. Of course, the opposition is a minority, but
they still have time to speak.
In Cambodia, the National Assembly limits freedom of expression
because the ruling party is afraid of criticism from the opposition.
Even members of the ruling party don't dare to criticise the head of
government because they don't want him to lose his position. If we
want to have real democracy and help the government to better serve
the nation through constructive criticism, the ruling party must give
a voice to the opposition and minor groups in the National Assembly.
Will you request help from the international community or from the
Asean Inter-Parliamentary Organisation?
No, not yet. Before the inauguration of the new Assembly [Prime
Minister Hun Sen] had already promised the Sam Rainsy Party that he
will recognise the rights of the opposition. We will give him some
time to fulfill this promise.
Hun Sen has also stressed that he would be unhappy if we sought
international support. So we tried to address our grievances directly
to Assembly President Samdech Heng Samrin, but he keeps answering that
we should respect the rules as they are. We will wait until the end of
If they don't offer a solution, we will seek help from the Inter-
Parliamentary Organisation and other democrats to defend the right of
If your effort to amend the internal rule fails, what is your next
If we cannot speak within the Assembly, we will seek another forum to
present our views.
For example, when parliament discusses a law, but we cannot voice our
position, we can release statements to the press. We will seek public
understanding for our ideas and suggestions through NGO forums and the
media. But this is only our last alternative.
If the CPP controls the government, the Assembly and the Senate, and
doesn't allow minority representatives to speak, then it encourages
demonstrations and protests in the maquis like in the past.
I think they don't reflect enough on this issue. What do they lose if
they amend the internal rules and allow others to speak?
Can Cambodia claim it has real freedom of expression?
We have freedom of expression only on the surface, but not in
First, many important channels of information, television and radio,
are controlled by the ruling party, even if there are some free media
outlets. Second, if they ban the voice of lawmakers, it is even more
serious than the freedom of press because the lawmakers are direct
representatives of the people.
So, even though the government claims that there is freedom of
expression, this is really not the case.
How do you cooperate with the Sam Rainsy Party within the Assembly?
We asked the SRP to speak for us, but we don't want this situation to
continue forever. We want to speak for ourselves and have full
freedom. The SRP complained too, but when they criticised the
government, the CPP threatened the opposition.
To tackle the problem, we have discussed with the SRP to unite into
one large opposition and cooperate in debates and in nonviolent
protest. In the future, we will unite and create a big party for the
How would you describe the current National Assembly?
The current Assembly is reverting into a Communist assembly, where the
state is the party and the party is the state.
The Assembly is controlled by one party, the government is led by one
party and the judicial system is controlled by one party.
It is like a communist system, but we will have to see what happens in
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