Crisis deepens as Cambodia's opposition leader loses parliament post

All 68 Cambodian People's Party parliamentarians voted to remove Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha for breaking the terms of a political deal.
All 68 Cambodian People's Party parliamentarians voted to remove Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha for breaking the terms of a political deal.PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (REUTERS) - Cambodia's ruling party ousted the opposition leader from his post of deputy parliament president on Friday (Oct 30) after a controversial house vote that could nudge the South-east Asian country closer to political conflict.

All 68 Cambodian People's Party (CPP) parliamentarians voted to remove Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha for breaking the terms of a political deal in which the CNRP had agreed not to disparage the ruling party.

CNRP boycotted the vote, calling it unconstitutional. It followed a petition lodged by hundreds of CPP supporters, who held a rally on Monday calling for Kem Sokha's removal.

Two CNRP lawmakers were badly beaten by unknown attackers after the protest, an attack which Prime Minister Hun Sen condemned but said was not the work of his CPP supporters. "Kem Sokha has always intended to destroy the deal and destroy the relationship between the two political parties," CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said.

The stripping of Kem Sokha's legislative post is the latest salvo by the long-ruling CPP that suggests its political deal with the increasingly popular CNRP for a "new culture of dialogue" has collapsed.

The agreement in July 2014 saw CNRP end a year-long house boycott in return for a series of concessions by CPP and some rare conciliatory talk by self-styled strongman Hun Sen.

Kem Sokha was appointed deputy National Assembly president as part of the deal.

The truce broke down in July when 11 CNRP members were jailed for insurrection for staging an illegal protest over a disputed 2013 election, in which CNRP's success stunned its rivals.

They were released on bail as part of the deal but a court jailed them not long after Hun Sen publicly urged judges to punish them harshly. He also warned that a CNRP election win in 2018 would create civil war.

Hun Sen has started to lash out after attempts by the CNRP to stir nationalist sentiment and bolster its claims that the premier had ceded land to erstwhile foe Vietnam.

CNRP parliamentarian Ou Chanrith said criticizing rival parties was part of the democratic process. "The political situation is getting more tense and unstable. There have been of threats the country will return to war, beatings of MPs and this removal," he said.