PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodia’s opposition party ended a six-month boycott of the parliament Tuesday, saying it wants to ensure the national budget for 2017 is debated properly in the house.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party had stopped attending parliamentary sessions after its members were stripped of their parliamentary immunity and confronted with lawsuits by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. The opposition and human rights groups say the cases against the opposition are politically motivated, mounted to harass them.
Eng Chhai Eang, a senior opposition lawmaker, said ahead of the National Assembly session that the party’s position remains unchanged but it wants a political truce with the ruling party.
“We hope that from now on the tension (with the ruling party) will be removed,” he said.
Hun Sen attended the session but opposition leader Sam Rainsy didn’t — he has been in self-imposed exile abroad since November after an old conviction for defamation was restored and his parliamentary immunity was stripped by the government’s legislative majority.
His deputy, Kem Sokha, also did not attend the session because of a scheduling conflict, said Eng Chhai Eang.
Kem Sokha was sentenced to five months in prison in September for twice ignoring a summons to answer questions related to a case involving his alleged mistress. His supporters say the case is political motivated. He is free pending an appeal in the Supreme Court.
Hun Sen’s party has often been accused in the past of using violence or the threat of violence against opponents, but in recent years has stalked its foes mostly in the courts.
Critics say Hun Sen is manipulating the courts to weaken the opposition’s chances in next year’s local polls and the 2018 general election.
Hun Sen has been Cambodia’s leader for three decades. But in a general election in 2013, his grip on power was shaken when the Cambodia National Rescue Party won 55 seats in the National Assembly, leaving the ruling Cambodian People’s Party with 68.