Cambodian opposition deputy leader ousted from parliament post

Cambodian opposition deputy leader ousted from parliament post
Kem Sokha (C), deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was removed by a parliamentary vote after supporters of Prime Minister Hun Sen called for his removal.
PHOTO: Reuters

PHNOM PENH - The deputy leader of Cambodia's opposition was Friday ousted as vice chief of parliament following protests by ruling party supporters, a move that threatens to reignite political tensions in the kingdom.

Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was removed by a parliamentary vote that comes after backers of strongman premier Hun Sen's party protested in their thousands for his removal on Monday.

That demonstration in Phnom Penh saw two CNRP MPs violently attacked.

It is not yet clear who was behind the attacks in a country where the prime minister has been in power for more than three decades and is frequently accused by rights groups of stifling the opposition.

The vote to remove Sokha as First Vice-President of the National Assembly went ahead Friday despite a boycott by opposition MPs.

The vote "has violated the Constitution" and the political deal between the two parties, said the CNRP in a statement issued after the ballot, referring to an agreement reached last July to end the opposition's year-long parliamentary boycott.

The removal of Sokha, who remains an MP, is the latest spat between Cambodia's two main political parties.

Relations reached a nadir after controversial 2013 elections which saw the CNRP abandon the legislature for a year, accusing the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of stealing victory through vote-rigging.

Political analyst Ou Virak said Sokha's removal was part of a wider attempt "to divide the opposition", with the deputy leader known to command a separate faction of the CNRP to party chief Sam Rainsy.

"It shows the CPP is worried about losing power," he told AFP, saying that splitting the opposition could help Hun Sen's party in the next general election in 2018.

Hun Sen, 63, has signalled he has no intention to end his dominance of Cambodian politics - previously vowing to stay in power until he is 74.

The leader is regularly accused by rights groups of stamping out dissent and ignoring human rights abuses.

In a statement on Friday Cambodia's parliament said the vote to remove Sokha was constitutional.

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