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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Experts Exchange Ideas on Constitutions

Experts Exchange Ideas on Constitutions

Experts Exchange Ideas on Constitutions

Heads of the Electoral and Legal components of the U.N. Transitional Authority for

Cambodia (UNTAC) convened a three-day seminar in Phnom Penh from Feb. 2-4 aimed at

presenting information and stimulating discussion on constitutional issues.

The seminar was held in response to a request from the Supreme National Council (SNC)

for UNTAC to help facilitate debate and exchange of ideas in the lead up to a new

Cambodian government drafting a constitution of its own.

One of the seminar's objectives was to make Cambodians aware of other countries'

constitutions, thereby giving them a frame of reference to analyze their own problems,

UN seminar organizer Luke Mhlaba stated.

But he insisted that although comparative studies could be useful, it was the task

of a new Constituent Assembly to draw up a constitution to meet the particular challenges

facing Cambodia.

Three academics presented papers to more than 40 Cambodian participants consisting

of representatives of three of the major factions and from many of the smaller political


Although invited, no representatives from Democratic Kampuchea turned up, Mhlaba


The first paper, which Mhlaba described as "highly theoretical," was presented

by Thai Professor Chai-anan Samudayanija.

Dr. Chai-anan contrasted Asian societies with Western or industrialized societies,

noting that industrialization had been characterized by the replacement of tradition

with modernity.

Asian countries, however, "allowed the possibility of the co-existence of these

otherwise opposing phenomena."

A new Cambodian constitution, Chai-anan argued, should take this into account and

should allow measures for extra-judicial modes of resolving conflicts and give a

place to traditional methods of dispute resolution, such as recourse to the village


Noting that the majority of Cambodia's population lived in rural areas, Chai-anan

warned of the risk of the new state catering only to the interests of the urban commercial


Belgian author of the "Cambodian Chronicles," Raoul Jennar, presented a

paper on executive power.

"He defined it and then presented a categorization of the various model regimes;

parliamentarian, presidential or semi-presidential, the idea being to put forward

the models that exist and to use what suits," Mhlaba said.

The paper aroused great interest as it brought up the pertinent issues of whether

there would be a monarchy or a presidential system and how presidential powers would

be defined. Singaporean Ambassador to Hungary and former Chief Justice Tan Boon Teik

gave the final speech on the importance of the separation of executive and judicial

powers and the independence of the judiciary.

Speaking after the seminar, Raoul Jennar emphasized the importance of this last issue,

seeing it as the key link for both development and democracy.

"A strong government is essential for development," Jennar stated. "Development

needs a capacity to decide. But a strong government can destroy development through

corruption. An independent judiciary is the only way to fight corruption," he


Mhlaba stated that having brought the various issues out into open debate, it was

now up to Cambodians as to whether or not they required UNTAC to hold further seminars.

He stated that UNTAC hoped to present a fairly detailed report on the seminar for

all attendants. Mhlaba presumed that this would generate further interest as he felt

there was a need for more study.

"The papers were very pertinent but were general and broad. There's a need to

break down various elements in the papers and look at them closely," he said.

"The separation of executive and judicial powers was not exhaustively discussed.

Greater debate [is] yet to come," he said.

UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi expressed his support for the idea of a further seminar.

The U.N. is also looking into the possibility of setting up a resource center to

provide information and materials to assist constitutional studies.


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