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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Coalition to be tested when MPs called to vote

Coalition to be tested when MPs called to vote

THE National Assembly is due to resume today (April 19), after a three-month recess,

in what will prove a critical test of the state of the government coalition.

Funcinpec and Cambodian People's Party (CPP) MPs could began voting against each

other in blocs if their parties' public rivalries have not been adequately soothed.

As neither side has an outright majority, the passing of new laws could be hampered,

as well as the appointment of new ministers.

Several observers suggested this week that the parties' leaderships would work out

an arrangement to avoid open conflict in the assembly, providing that no contentious

legislation was introduced.

A draft nationality law, however, could easily become a political football if CPP

tries to introduce a ban on politicians and civil servants from holding dual citizenship.

At a recent meeting of the National Assembly's permanent standing committee, several

members urged that the resumption be delayed to give time for the Funcinpec-CPP strife

to be resolved. The committee finally decided against a postponement, to keep the

assembly's legislative schedule on track.

One of the first items on the agenda will be a vote on the appointment of Funcinpec's

nominee for the new position of Minister of Women's Affairs, Mu Sochua, and her CPP

deputy, Im Run.

Ministerial appointments require a two-thirds majority vote of the assembly. Sochua

- subject of a poison pen letter campaign opposing her nomination - cannot get the

post without some CPP votes.

Funcinpec and assembly officials played down the prospect of Sochua being rejected

by MPs, saying that both Hun Sen and the Council of Ministers had endorsed her nomination.

New laws need to be passed by the assembly by a simple majority - at least 61 of

120 votes - which neither Funcinpec or CPP has alone.

Funcinpec has 58 seats, and CPP 51, with the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party having

10 and Molinka one. The balance of voting power would lie with the divided BLDP if

Funcinpec and CPP voted against each other.

"The line is well marked by both sides," one Funcinpec MP said this week

of the current political deadlock.

"Will there be some line that CPP will vote against everything put forward by

Funcinpec? If that happens, it means they [CPP MPs] will have received that order."

Said another: "If that's the game, we will have to do the same."

The first two laws due to go before the assembly are relatively uncontroversial:

a pharmaceutical control law and a public company law.

More thorny will be the nationality law, not expected to get to the assembly till

at least late next month. The law - crucial for determining who is a Khmer citizen

- is currently being held up at the assembly's Commission on Home Affairs, National

Defense, Investigation and Anti-Corruption.

Funcinpec MPs say several CPP commission members are pushing for a provision to be

put in the draft law prohibiting politicians and officials from being citizens of

both Cambodia and other countries.

One MP lashed out at the CPP move as "more than stupid" and a direct attack

on Funcinpec and other parties "involved with the [anti-Vietnamese] resistance".

Many Funcinpec members - from Prince Norodom Ranariddh down - hold dual citizenship.

The MP urged political leaders to speak out on the issue.

"They must defend the principles of right to citizenship and the recognition

that Cambodia is still in a transition...they must recognize the actual situation

in Cambodia."

Another MP said that, if forced to give up his foreign passport or his seat in the

National Assembly, he might well choose to resign and join an opposition party.

Ranariddh's Cabinet chief, Ly Thuch, said: "I think that it's not a loss for

a country like Cambodia where Cambodians have children who can have two citizenships.

"I don't think that's a bad thing. We must be open-minded, and look at the world,

the movement around the world."

An adviser to Hun Sen, Om Yentieng, had no comment on Funcinpec-CPP relations except

that "the CPP has no reason to go against Funcinpec."

Bou Thang, the chairman of the assembly commission studying the draft law, could

not be contacted for comment over the Khmer New Year. But he is understood to have

sought a meeting with co-Interior Ministers Sar Kheng and You Hockry on the matter.

The official government draft approved by the Council of Ministers does not include

any ban on dual citizenship for politicians, but such a campaign for such a ban has

been rumored for months.

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