PHNOM PENH • Cambodia's ruling party ousted the opposition leader from his post of deputy Parliament president yesterday 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.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said: "Kem Sokha has always intended to destroy the deal and destroy the relationship between the two political parties."
CNRP boycotted the vote, calling it unconstitutional. The vote followed a petition lodged by hundreds of CPP supporters, who held a rally on Monday calling for Mr Kem Sokha's removal.
Two CNRP lawmakers had been badly beaten by unknown attackers after the protest on Monday. Witnesses said lawmakers Ngoy Chamroeun and Kong Sophea were attacked in their vehicles by a group of about 50 men as they tried to leave Parliament. The lawmakers were seen covered in blood as they were taken for medical treatment.
Prime Minister Hun Sen condemned the attack but said it was not the work of his CPP supporters. He ordered the authorities to launch an investigation into the case to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The stripping of Mr 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 deal in July last year saw CNRP end a year-long parliamentary boycott following a disputed election. CNRP lawmakers-elect had refused to take up seats won in the July 2013 election - it had 55 seats against 68 won by CPP in the 123-seat Parliament - after the authorities rejected their demand for an independent inquiry into alleged vote-rigging by CPP. The opposition accused CPP of using its influence to thwart any probe.
Under the agreement, CPP offered a series of concessions along with some rare conciliatory talk by Mr Hun Sen. Mr Kem Sokha's appointment was part of the deal.
The truce broke down in July this year when 11 CNRP members were jailed for insurrection for staging an illegal anti-government protest that turned violent the year before. They had been released on bail as part of the deal. A court jailed them not long after Mr Hun Sen publicly urged judges to punish them harshly. The Premier has started to lash out after attempts by the CNRP to stir nationalist sentiment and bolster its claims that he had ceded land to erstwhile foe Vietnam. Earlier this month, he warned that a CNRP election win in 2018 would create civil war.
But CNRP parliamentarian Ou Chanrith said criticising rival parties was part of the democratic process. "The political situation is getting more tense and unstable. There have been threats the country will return to war, beatings of MPs and this removal," he said.