Acting CNRP President Kem Sokha is planning to leave his refuge in the opposition party’s Phnom Penh headquarters to attend the next plenary session of the National Assembly on Tuesday, when lawmakers will debate next year’s national budget.
Mr. Sokha “intends to join the meeting on that day,” Yem Ponhearith, a CNRP spokesman, said on Thursday. “I don’t know more details than this. I just know he has the plan to join that session.”
Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, left, walks across wooden planks above a flooded street in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district in October on his way to to register to vote. (Pring Samrang)Opposition lawmakers have been boycotting parliament since late May, when police attempted to arrest Mr. Sokha over his refusal to appear over a “prostitution” case involving an alleged mistress. Mr. Sokha has left the headquarters only once in the ensuing months, in order to register to vote.
Next year’s budget is too important for CNRP lawmakers, who skipped the last National Assembly plenary session over safety fears, to let the CPP pass without proper debate, Mr. Ponhearith said. With 55 of 123 seats, the CNRP cannot block the bill.
“We believe the draft law on the national budget is the most important thing that we need to attend, discuss and approve because it is directly involved with our people’s livelihoods,” he said.
Mr. Sokha’s attendance would come more than a year after the ruling party removed him from his position as vice president of the National Assembly, a move the CNRP says was illegal. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has ignored his legal immunity as a lawmaker throughout his prosecution this year.
The CNRP is also hoping that its decision to join the next session of parliament will clear the way for political negotiations with the CPP, though Mr. Ponhearith would not say what exactly the party hoped to discuss.
He said the parties planned to meet “to seek a solution for our country,” adding, “I don’t know the details yet, but what we know is that during the Assembly meeting we may meet and talk together.”
With legal cases facing 10 of its members of parliament and senators—one of which was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison on Thursday—the CNRP has repeatedly said that only political negotiations could resolve what it says are political prosecutions.
The CPP, however, has insisted that it can do nothing to interrupt the proceedings of the courts, despite a number of the arrests coming directly on the orders of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and a strong precedent for prisoners being released following negotiations.
Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said on Thursday that it was “impossible” for the parties to discuss the legal cases—some of which have yet to reach the trial stage, and others still being appealed—until they were settled by the courts.
“Their appeal for a meeting is impossible,” Mr. Eysan said. “They want to meet and discuss between both parties to release the prisoners.”
“While the courts are processing their procedure we cannot meet with each other,” he added. “Let the court finish it first. We will consider it later.”
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