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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP Demand Risks Dead-lock

CPP Demand Risks Dead-lock

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

war.

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.

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