Cambodia’s parliament unanimously voted on Friday to amend the constitution to elevate the country’s opposition party leader to a legislative rank on par with Prime Minister Hun Sen, in a move the opposition said would end the “culture of revenge” and animosity among lawmakers.
National Assembly (parliament) lawmakers voted to allow opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy to become the house minority leader with 102 votes in favor of the move from members of both the CNRP and Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Rainsy told reporters outside the assembly building that the amendment served the interests of a younger generation of people and would strengthen the country’s democratic process.
He also said the move was “a vital political turn” that recognized the opposition party’s role.
“A so-called opposition party now is recognized for its role, duty and rights in order to allow it to completely fulfill its job,” he said.
“Until now, the ruling party has always tried get rid of the opposition party. This is the culture of revenge and violence. If they [the CPP] don’t harm us physically, they use the court instead to end the political careers of opposition party members.”
Despite the vote, Rainsy said the situation remained tense because several CNRP members are being held in detention for participation in an opposition-led protest that saw supporters clash with security personnel on July 15 in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Kem Sokha, first vice president of the National Assembly and vice president of the CNRP, told lawmakers that he strongly supported the amendment.
“This amendment proves that this is a real national reconciliation and in the spirit of strengthening the democratic process,” he said, adding that it would “contribute to the country’s development.”
“We have dreamed for a long time to see national reconciliation. Even though the amendment recognizes the leadership of the minority party leader, lawmakers must be responsible because they can’t rely on the minority leader and allow [him] and the prime minister to control the country’s fate.”
On July 22, the two parties had struck a deal that saw elected CNRP lawmakers return to the National Assembly following a 10-month boycott protesting the July 2013 election results, which the opposition said were rigged.
Ou Virak, a human rights activist, intellectual and president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Rainsy’s recognition as a legislative equal to Hun Sen was merely a gesture by the prime minister that would not boost the opposition party’s bargaining power, according to reports.
“Making the new post equal in rank to prime minister but with no real power is a tactic used successfully by Hun Sen many times before,” he was quoted as saying.
Reported by So Chivi of RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.