The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia yesterday met with the National Assembly president and the National Election Committee, raising concerns over the allocation of the opposition CNRP’s seats after its dissolution.
Rhona Smith is on a 10-day mission to the Kingdom and had a closed-door meeting with National Assembly President Heng Samrin yesterday.
After the meeting, she told reporters that she discussed the reallocation of the CNRP’s 55 parliament seats following its disbandment in November.
“I raised a number of issues with the National Assembly, including the dissolution of the CNRP and reallocation of seats,” she said, noting that she also raised concerns over the abuse of parliamentary immunity.
The CNRP won 55 seats out of 123 in the National Assembly when it contested the general election in 2013. The party also ran in the commune elections in June last year, wining more than 40 percent of seats.
But on November 16, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 of its senior members from politics for five years in the wake of party leader Kem Sokha being jailed on treason charges.
Both Mr Sokha, who was jailed as authorities cited a red-handed crime which allowed his immunity to be suspended, and the party were accused by the Interior Ministry of being behind a plot to overthrow the government through a colour revolution with the aid of a foreign power.
After its dissolution, all of the CNRP’s positions were doled out to other parties, with the ruling CPP scooping up most of the available seats at the local level.
Chheang Vun, a CPP lawmaker and head of the National Assembly’s Commission on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, Information and Media, met with Ms Smith following her meeting with Mr Samrin.
Mr Vun said after his meeting that he explained to Ms Smith that the reallocation of the CNRP’s 55 parliament seats was carried out according to the law.
“When the party was dissolved, those seats were vacated,” he said. “With the seats vacated, we could not be silent and take no action by letting the state die. Those seats had to be filled to continue democracy in the country.”
“We are not letting Cambodia die like it has in the past,” he added. “So we had to strengthen the National Assembly, the most important beacon of democracy in the country. The National Assembly must live on in order to complete its mandate and our laws allowed the NEC to distribute seats from the dissolved party to other parties that had contested the election.”
Ms Smith went on to meet with NEC chairman Sik Bunhok after her time at the National Assembly, using the meeting to discuss the election body’s past and upcoming work.
Asked if the July general election could be considered free and fair without the CNRP’s participation, Ms Smith told reporters afterwards that the NEC has an important role to play.
“I think the NEC has a role to play in ensuring that those parties with registered candidates can participate freely and to encourage participation and an even field in the election in July,” she said. “I think any election in Cambodia must have a range of opposition parties given that the constitution is based on multi-party, liberal democracy. So it is important.”
“I think if Cambodia develops a one-party system that will be problematic in terms of the constitution,” she added.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said Ms Smith was asked to send observers for the July election.
Ms Smith also met with Social Affairs Ministry officials yesterday, raising concerns over the infamous Prey Speu detention centre, where homeless people, beggars and the mentally ill are housed after being rounded up off the streets by authorities.
During a meeting with Secretary of State Sem Sokha, Ms Smith inquired as to why people were still being detained at the centre, now known as the Phnom Penh Transit Centre, following a 2015 guideline to curb admissions as reports of deaths and abuse emerged.
Mr Sokha told Ms Smith that no one is “detained” at the transit centre, but rather brought there for education and help reintegrating into society.
“We do not recognise the words arrest and detain,” said Mr Sokha. “Our centre does not arrest or detain people.”
More than 1,700 beggars and homeless people were removed from the streets of Phnom Penh and sent to social affairs centres last year.