The Constituent Assembly is only a few weeks old and it is perhaps too early to say
much about it. They have had two meetings, one in their "new-old building",
and one "at the foot of the throne".
They have voted, unanimously it is said, though no one bothered to count the votes,
to give Prince Norodom Sihanouk unspecified powers "to save the nation".
Perhaps, so far most importantly a decision was made to put together a rules committee,
which will announce its results on May 30, 1993.
The rules committee has set out to do the work that is necessary in all purposeful
gatherings, deciding on a set of rules to govern the conduct of business.
Part of the committee's mandate is to recommend a rule for making rules. The question
is how many votes are necessary in this Assembly of 120 members and potential votes
to pass a law or to approve a measure. The rules committee will forward their recommendation
to the full Assembly on May 30.
The Cambodian People's Party has pressed for a two-thirds majority rule, FUNCINPEC
has (for now) accepted this, but some members of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic
Party are pressing for fifty percent plus one vote as the general rule.
Demanding a two-thirds majority is not unprecedented in international representative
bodies. A two-thirds majority is required in most democracies to ratify or to amend
the national constitutions and for decisions of similar magnitude, like going to
The Paris Peace Accords dictate that the Constitution, yet to be written, must be
accepted by a two thirds majority.
But what the Cambodian People's Party is advocating is that the two-thirds majority
rule be applied to important issues of much lesser magnitude than accepting the Constitution.
Even for demonstrably important issues like passing a budget, done recently in the
United States Senate, a simple majority is deemed sufficient.
And here, one would suppose, is the rub. Dr. Kahn, a member of Bangladesh's Parliament
warned the members of the Constituent Assembly whom he met this weekend that institution
of a two-thirds voting rule risks dead-lock.
CPP members respond that there are important matters on which a two-thirds majority
is necessary as a vote of confidence, for instance, installing a permanent Assembly
President, also to be done on May 30. Others maintain that dead-lock is exactly what
the CPP is after.
FUNCINPEC's spokesman Mr. You Hoc Kry indicated his party's preference for a simple
majority rule, but said "they had to accept the two-thirds majority rule".
He said, however, there would be a division of issues and policies that arose into
"important" and "routine".
Important matters would require a two-thirds vote, and routine matters would pass
with a simple majority. The rules committee would be empowered to place particular
matters into these two categories.
The rules committee is made up of 12 members, five from the CPP, one from MOLINAKA
and six from FUNCINPEC.
Political reality is multi-layered here. The voting rule issue is made irrelevant
by what is at once the more obvious surface reality and the real bone of contention
in the back-ground.
On the surface, if votes continue to be "unanimous", arguments about which
rule should be chosen are a bit irrelevant. Questions will be decided behind closed
doors, and members of the parties will close ranks behind the decision of their party,
however they is reached.
Some members of BLDP are clearly not happy with the current situation. One described
the unanimous voting as "just like the communists".
But unanimous voting is not necessarily indicative of decision processes that are
"undemocratic". Compromises may be made behind closed doors which are reached
after quiet, full, wide-ranging negotiations and consideration of alternatives. However,
unanimous voting is also consistent with centralized decision-making among a small
number of people, where the widest ranges of opinion is not sought, and where debate
is stifled or non-existent, in this case the Assembly becomes a simple rubber stamp.
But one can say that decisions made behind doors, however democratic they might be
among those allowed in the decision process, suffer from a major disadvantage - they
are (by definition) not publicly transparent. In a democracy one aspires to decision
processes that are as open and accessible to the affected citizenry as possible.
But the issue might come out into the open if a split develops in BLDP, as seems
now possible, between those who are willing to accept direction on how to vote from
Sonn San, and those who seek greater individual independence.
The choice between a simple majority and a two-thirds majority will remain an irrelevant
issue as long as unanimous voting is the rule. Only if the public facade of complete
unanimity is broken can the issue break out where some say it should be, in the open.
How this Assembly decides to operate is of course up to them, as it should be. The
constitution that the Assembly ultimately produces must belong to the Cambodian people
in the strongest sense of the word. The members of this Assembly have been given
a mandate by the people of Cambodia to find a way to operate that is consistent with
Cambodian tradition and history, but not unmindful of the democratic ideals to which
they and the people of Cambodia aspire.
As to how they will decide between the two-thirds rule and a simple majority rule?
It is not clear yet. Perhaps they will vote on it.