One hundred and twenty representatives elected by the Cambodian people will start
drafting a Constitution. They have to face a lot of crucial choices which will have
an effect on the future of the country.
It is important to underscore that these will be Cambodian decisions. It is up to
the Cambodian members of the Assembly to decide. And foreigners-specially diplomats
and UNTAC officials-have to respect this new sovereignty. Cambodia is no longer a
laboratory for foreign ideas.
The provisions of the Peace Agreements must not be the pretext for interference.
Annex 5 of the accords-which recalls the basic principles of democracy and human
rights-leaves Cambodians with full freedom to decide how they want to organize their
They have three months to decide if they want a constitutional monarchy with or without
specific powers for a king or if they prefer a republican regime. If they prefer
a republic, there are different options: the president is just a figure-head or he
is powerful; the president is elected by the people or by representatives of the
people; the parliament is powerful or not; the government is the core of the executive
or not; the executive is shared by the president and the government and so on.
Another important choice deals with separation of powers and the relations between
the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. How each branch of government works
and is organized must be delineated by the Constitution. The independence of the
judiciary is very important, not only because it is imposed by the Paris Accords
but above all because a strong, independent judiciary creates the best chance to
establish the rule of law and to fight corruption.
Another option is about the organization of the Parliament. Do the new MPs want one
or two houses? If there is a second one, how will members be elected and for which
Important also are the provisions about the electoral law since Cambodians may adopt
a system other than the UNTAC electoral law, about the right to convene and dissolve
the Parliament, about incompatibilities, about the different means of controlling
the executive, about the process of consultation and the participation of the people
between elections (the role of NGOs, hearings, referenda, etc.).
Mechanisms about the budget, finances and the expenses of the state are no less important.
How to organize local and provincial structures and how to ensure a functioning bureaucracy
can lead to a crucial debate about a centralized or de-centralized character of the
The "perpetual neutrality" of Cambodia is proclaimed by the Peace Accords.
Cambodia does not have the right to become a member of ASEAN if this organization
decides to become a military alliance. The conditions of the specific Cambodian neutrality
must be enshrined in the Constitution.
It is clear that the members of the Assembly are facing a difficult assignment in
drafting the Constitution. They will need a high sense of consensus if they want
to achieve this objective and to adopt by two-thirds-as imposed by the Peace Accords-the
fundamental law of a new Cambodia.
Raoul M. Jennar is a specialist on parliamentary law and author of the Cambodian