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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Constitution Ratified

Constitution Ratified

Sihanouk Returns to be King

The Constituent Assembly, after spending five days in heated debate, ratified the

draft constitution officially on Sep. 21, paving the way for its transformation into

a National Assembly. The signing ceremony which took place on a sultry Tuesday morning

marked another significant step by the political parties to bring peace and stability

to the country after decades of conflict.

"This September 21, 1993 remains for the history of Cambodia-as for the Khmer

people themselves-a great historical day after the adoption by the Constituent Assembly

of the draft constitution," Son Sann, chairman of the constituent assembly,

said in his speech after the 120 members cast their votes to adopt the final text.

The constitution was passed by 113 votes in favor-well in excess of the two thirds

majority demanded in the secret vote provision-with five votes against and two abstentions.

"I am very satisfied with this overwhelming, massive vote for the adoption of

the constitution. It's better than a unanimous vote. The five against and two abstentions

indicate that Cambodia is a very liberal democratic country," Prince Norodom

Ranariddh, the first co-premier said after the session closed.

"The result lays a new foundation that we Khmers will be able to reconstruct

a Cambodia as prosperous as in the Angkor era," he added.

All the assembly's members applauded in approval of the constitution after Son Sann

put his signature to the text. He noted, however, that the constitution still needed

further amendments until it meets the aspirations of the people.

"I want to affirm our determination to continue our work in the name of the

people whom we are the representatives of, by trying to gather all that is good to

make laws and by not hesitating to reject what is anti-democratic, not in conformity

to the national interests," he said.

"I never cease to repeat that if we are divided, the Khmer people will be weak,

instead in national unity and concord, we will be strong," he stated.

The adoption of the 14-chapter, 139-article document fully endorsed the resurrection

of the monarchy with Prince Norodom Sihanouk as king, 38 years after he abdicated

the throne in favor of his father in 1955 to expand his political role. In an already

agreed move, the prince will appoint two co-prime ministers-FUNCINPEC leader Prince

Ranariddh and Cambodian People's Party head Hun Sen-to form the new government. Prince

Ranariddh has said that the number of members in the cabinet would be limited to

20 or 21 when the new government is formed.

Speaking shortly after the signing, Prince Ranarridh said the ratification of the

constitution would put the government in a much better position to deal with the

Khmer Rouge.

"The strongest argument to deal with the Khmer Rouge is definitely not the weapon.

But, the strongest document is the constitution which has just been overwhelmingly

adopted by the real representatives of the people and we will use that constitution,

legally against the Khmer Rouge," Prince Ranariddh said. Asked about the fifteen

percent power sharing arrangement the Khmer Rouge had demanded, he said they would

be given "zero" percent.

The Prince and Hun Sen will attend the General Assembly of the United Nations and

the special session of the Security Council on Cambodia at the end of this month,

he said.

At the end of the meeting, the people's representatives left the assembly hall for

a photograph-taking session which was accompanied by the playing of the national

anthem to mark the closure of the second session of the constitution assembly which

had opened the week before.

The debate started with a direct broadcast through loudspeakers outside the assembly

building and it was the first time since the drafters first huddled behind closed

doors to begin drawing up the constitution that the public and human rights groups

got a chance to publicly find out what it was like. Ponleu Khmer, a coalition of

Cambodian NGOs pushing for a truly democratic constitution, had been critical of

the secretive manner in which the drafts were prepared and along with the Asia Foundation

were accused by Prince Ranariddh of being pro-CIA.

"We have tried our best through back door and front door in order to learn about

it (the constitution). They must show the people where is democracy because the new

constitution is vitally important for the future of our country," said Sochua

Leiper, president of Khemara, shortly before the debate began.

"The elections elected people's representatives, not individuals. If the

constitution is made for all the people, the people must know what it says,"

said Meas Somaly, president of the Association for Development and Education.

On the first day of the debate, the pro-democracy activists organized a rally at

the assembly house of about 600 activists, monks and nuns holding banners to welcome

the inauguration of the proceedings. They said the secrecy of the drafting process

was a deviation from the principles of the Paris Peace Accords. They also dispatched

four representatives to listen to discussions in the meeting hall.

Delegates started debating the draft's first two chapters which call for Prince Norodom

Sihanouk, long a unique symbol of national reconciliation, to ascend the throne and

become king of Cambodia again.

Two of the six articles in the first chapter read:

Cambodia is a Kingdom, the Monarch of which complies with the constitution and a

pluralistic liberal democracy. The Kingdom of Cambodia is an independent, sovereign,

peaceful, neutral and non-aligned state in its continuity.

The motto of the Kingdom of Cambodia is: nation, religion, Monarch.

A later chapter reads: "The Cambodian Monarch reigns but does not govern."

Originally it had been proposed that the prince enjoy vast powers including the right

to appoint the prime minister, to command the armed forces and to dismantle the parliament.

But the assembly, bowing to the pressure of a 'small group of republicans' and local

NGOs who feared that Sihanouk might return to enjoy the 'dual role' he played in

ruling Cambodia until 1970, agreed to curtail the monarch's powers.

"The thing we have left to the king is simply what we call a nominal function

of powers of any head of state. I have to say that this the king has less power than

any president in any republic regime," Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the leader

of the government, told journalists during the first day of the session.

The assemblymen quickly passed the 30 articles regarding the restoration of the monarchy

during the first two hours of the session. The process slowed down when they began

a debate on the provisions of law, human rights and citizenship issues. Most of the

arguments centered on revisions to the wording of the draft charter. The articles

required no voting, but ultimate consensus of the proposals raised by the people's

representatives. For instance, in Article 38, Ieng Mouly of Buddhist Liberal Democratic

Party (BLDP) suggested changes in the phrase from "...arrest or detention of

any individual can be conducted provided law permits" to "...can be conducted

provided there is a proper implementation of law".

"I am worried that the power holders could exceed the limits of law as they

used to do before, and people just ran away when they received an invitation from

the chief of the village," Ieng Mouly said at the session.

Regarding provisions on citizenship, the assembly members insisted the words "Khmer

citizens" be changed to "all Cambodian citizens", which includes ethnic

Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams and hill tribespeople. They also agreed to set up a non-governmental

commission on human rights in the assembly.

"It's very significant because after 24 years of all kinds of regimes for the

first time the people's representatives have decided the constitution for the country,"

said Prince Ranariddh.

"The atmosphere is very interesting and very democratic. Mostly, they showed

a spirit of reconciliation without demonstrating any left or right wing. What is

important is that they paid a lot of attention to human rights issues," said

Khut Inserey, an assistant at the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Delegates spent almost two hours before they found consensus on Article 79 which

states that it is incompatible for members of parliament to hold government portfolios.

Some participants commented that debate on the article went far beyond healthy discussion.

They said strong arguments arose as some MPs from FUNCINPEC demanded the assemblymen

could play a dual role while MPs from CPP insisted in keeping the original sentence

which applies to a clear separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers.

Pol Ham, a BLDP assemblyman, was sceptical about imposing a two third majority procedure

to vote for any decision making and did not think that it can be found among the

120 assemblymen.

"This formula seems to weaken an opposition's ability to resist any decision

made by the national assembly and the government. In case of the need to change the

government it will be difficult to find the two thirds, but everything is already

set," he said, adding he preferred a simple majority.

The constitution endorsed the co-prime minister formula making Prince Ranariddh the

'first co-premier' and Hun Sen 'second co-premier'.

"Though I am a co-prime minister I've already given the first position to Sdech

Krom Luong (Prince Ranariddh) as you can see in protocol, or at least I respect his

age because he is older than I am," Hun Sen said, adding that work procedures

pursued by the two co-premiers would be equal.

He admitted the formula was strange, but said it was necessary to help prevent rifts

in the country.

"I'd like to say because it's strange that's why Cambodia is not Afghanistan,

Angola, Yugoslavia or Somalia," he said.

U.N. officials argued that such a joint portfolio structure is unlikely to continue

to be practised in the next term of the government, but given the reality of the

current political situation in Cambodia, they could see little alternative. To be

clear, the two third majority insisted on by the CPP who have 51 seats in the 120-seat

assembly was believed to be a tactic to prevent FUNCINPEC from getting real decision

making powers.

"The point is right now Cambodia needs stability, it needs to say to the international

community that now 'we have stability, consensus, to start reconstruction, rehabilitation,"

said Lt. Gen. John Sanderson.

He went on to say, "Of course, in the fullness of time, there will not be two

prime ministers. There can only be one, but right now they need this consensus to

ensure stability."

And by having the constitution adopted, observers strongly believe that the government

will undoubtedly have both the moral and legal authority to deal with any illegal

acts that threaten the future stability of the country.

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