PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The events which unfolded in the first full working session of the National Assembly on Tuesday, and during voting on Wednesday, could have a disturbing political fallout.
This showed that there was disunity within the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). Some members did not vote in conformity. It partially violated the spirit of the July 22 agreement.
This called into question – by some within the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) – the sincerity of the agreement and its implementation, according to Chheang Vannarith, Cambodian political analyst.
“It was just a political crack, some turbulence,” he said. “Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy can fix it.”
“Mr. Hun Sen has shown his clear and firm political will to work with the opposition to bring about the fruits of reform,” he continued. “It also signaled that through secret ballot, it has put some ministers in a challenging position and a high risk of a vote of no confidence.”
He stressed that the implementation of the secret ballot shows political maturity and that reality is sinking into the minds of Cambodian politicians.
“This is democracy,” Mr. Vannarith said. “In a secret ballot, no one knows – except those who voted – whose name was marked. And this can send many signals with differing implications and interpretations.”
He stressed that both parties must play a fair game and strictly implement the agreement. Without trust, they cannot work and move together to generate positive changes.
Phay Siphan, spokesperson for the Council of Ministers commented: “This is democracy at work. The integrity of the July 22 agreement between the CPP and the CNRP should not be questioned or brought into disrepute.”
“The secret ballot is part of the reform to the internal workings of the National Assembly and signifies a ‘check and balance’ within the National Assembly and its members, as well as the executive,” he added. “This is historical.”
In addition, said Mr. Siphan, the two first days of the parliamentary session tested the maturity of politicians as they were broadcast live. Cambodians have seen how parliamentarians behave in the legislative house and what they do.
“Is it really a big surprise that two controversial figures were not accepted by a majority in the National Assembly?” he asked “The replacement candidates were chosen by both parties’ commission members and not by a single party.”
The two controversial figures, Mu Sochua and Yim Sovann were replaced by Ms Ke Sovannaroth and Ho Vann respectively and their confirmation was announced by Parliament President, Samdech Heng Samrin.
Chheang Vun, a ruling party parliamentarian and spokesman for the National Assembly, agreed saying in an interview at parliament: “Last month’s deal can’t force a lawmaker’s heart, and no one knows in advance that lawmakers dislike them. [The rejection of the two CNRP candidates] is not related to political issues. It is the personal choice of lawmakers.”
After the vote, Sam Rainsy – president of the CNRP – said that he would resubmit the names of his defeated candidates for a second vote, probably next month.
“It is the right of the Cambodia National Rescue Party to select candidates for chairmanship of the two commissions,” he told reporters, after the surprise rejections.
Mr. Siphan, the Council of Ministers spokesman, said: “Maybe it is time for consultations and consensus. Possibly the Prime Minister and Mr. Rainsy should have further high level discussions to resolve underlying issues. “The emphasis is on democracy, rights of the legislative members and their right to chose whom they wanted as they have to work with the commission heads to move forward.”
He said that this is yet another wake up call to members of both parties, the executive branch, the ministers, the legislators, and on down to provincial levels.
“The message is clear: It is no more business as usual,” said Mr. Siphan. “This is a new era in Cambodian politics – one of checks and balances and we have to accept it. After almost a year of political turmoil, the eyes of the Cambodian people and the international community is on the National Assembly and how its members perform.”
Another political analyst who declined to be identified added: “The events on Tuesday, where the outgoing first vice-president, Ngoun Nhel, showed reluctance to vacate his chair could be interpreted as resistance and reluctance by some CPP veterans to change.”
“They may take some time to adapt to this new parliamentarian bi-polar environment,” the analyst said.
A western diplomat who spoke to the it condition of anonymity dismissed Tuesday and Wednesday’s incidents as a ‘storm in a tea cup’.
He said: “One must understand, the political divide cannot be resolved or forgotten over several signatures. Animosity and deep differences – especially personality clashes remain embedded.”
“It will take time and goodwill to heal these differences,” he added. “I personally look at the voting process as a refreshing change. Though the reluctance of some to vacate their seat or accept their loss is troubling, it is nevertheless a positive sign of a maturing democracy.”
“It could have been different if there was a show of hands, but then again, this is not democratic and is full of contradictions,” he added. “Those nominated may have gotten the votes they needed, but it will not be democratic or a healthy environment as people may have voted along party lines out of fear of being marginalized or reprisals.”