PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A committee controlled by Cambodia's ruling party has ruled that 28 opposition lawmakers should be expelled from the National Assembly ahead of elections next month because their parties merged into a new party.
Ruling Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Thursday that 25 legislators from the former Sam Rainsy Party and three from the former Human Rights Party lost their legal right to sit in the assembly because they quit their old parties to join the new Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The Cambodia Daily newspaper quoted Cambodia National Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy as saying the move was illegal and the assembly would lack a quorum if the expulsions were carried out. Sam Rainsy earlier lost his parliamentary seat.
All 12 members of the committee that oversees the assembly's daily operations belong to Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party.
The move would hurt the opposition lawmakers' ability to campaign by depriving them of their salaries as well as their parliamentary immunity from arrest. The government aggressively uses defamation laws to punish the kind of critical remarks that would be common in an election.
The opposition party is already handicapped by having Sam Rainsy in self-imposed exile to avoid 12 years in prison from convictions widely seen as politically motivated. He and Hun Sen are bitter political enemies, and Sam Rainsy is the only national figure with the political skills and organization to pose a challenge to the prime minister.
Hun Sen's well-organized and financed political machine is expected to win by a landslide the July 28 polls to elect 123 lawmakers. Hun Sen has been prime minister since 1985. His party won 90 assembly seats after a 2008 election victory.