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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NA extends session for electoral law

NA extends session for electoral law

Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party legislators called off their boycott of the National

Assembly August 14 following several days of non-attendance that effectively paralyzed

the country's main legislative body. That means the NA's extended session to debate

amendments to the electoral law can now take place.

Funcinpec's leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh called on his legislators August 15 to

attend the sessions in order that the amendments could be signed into law by the

head of state by August 26.

"We will carefully examine the election amendments. We have seen that the draft

is better than the old law," he said. "Although we are not happy with it,

it is acceptable, and I believe the amendments will be approved."

Heng Samrin, first deputy of the NA and a senior Cambodian People's Party politician,

told reporters August 15 the two parties were once again working together.

"I am happy there is still cooperation between the two main parties to fill

the quorum for the sessions," he told reporters.

"There is nothing to worry about on the lack of a quorum. Only a few of them

joined the boycott, but that will not prove a problem for the future."

However other legislators were less certain. Two Funcinpec politicians, Keo Remy

and Ouk Socheath, told the Post they wanted to see how much give and take there was

between the two parties in the debate on the electoral amendments. They did not reply

when asked whether they would walk out again.

"If there is no change from the original [draft amendment approved by the Council

of Ministers], then perhaps there will be a problem," said Remy. "If there

is no compromise then I would rather have the old election law. A quorum is still

not guaranteed."

Remy, who stressed he was speaking on behalf of Funcinpec lawmakers rather than the

party, added that he was unhappy with the CPP's proposed composition of the new National

Election Committee (NEC).

A reformed NEC, which regulates the country's elections, would have five 'dignitaries'

proposed by the Ministry of Interior and approved by the National Assembly on a two-thirds

vote. That is the most controversial part of amendments to the electoral law, as

Funcinpec and SRP lawmakers believe the CPP could hijack the reformed body as it

was accused of doing before the two previous elections.

Another issue is time: the changes must be passed by the NA before the end of August

if the country is to hold its general election as scheduled for July 27 next year.

Approval of the amendments requires a 50 percent plus one vote in the 122 member

house. To debate the issue requires a quorum of 86 parliamentarians.

That means the CPP, with 64 seats, needs deputies from Funcinpec to attend to ensure

that a quorum is met, but could technically pass the amendments on its own provided

sufficient MPs remained at the session.

CPP legislators were confident their party could guarantee a quorum. "I and

the other CPP lawmakers have the political will to attend the meetings of the NA,"

Nhim Vanda told reporters, "even though I am worried about the drought. Those

who do not want to attend are showing no regard to serve the nation."

The problems at the NA came to a head on August 8 when the house rejected the candidacy

of RCAF deputy commander-in-chief Khan Savoeun as co-minister of the interior. Savoeun

was nominated for the position by Funcinpec to replace the incumbent, You Hokry,

whom party faithful accused of nepotism and corruption.

With 49 parliamentarians abstaining and another four marking their ballots as invalid,

Savoeun fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to replace Hokry. Interviewed

outside the National Assembly, Savoeun was philosophical about his defeat.

"I am not disappointed at all - this is a democracy," he said. "If

they like me they will vote for me, if they don't like me they won't."

Ranariddh said the party had not yet considered the issue, but he felt there was

little chance of a second attempt to replace Hokry with Savoeun. The decision, he

said, would rest with the party's Steering Committee.

There were bitter complaints from some Funcinpec lawmakers, who blamed the CPP for

not supporting their candidate. They accused the CPP of breaking the terms of the

coalition agreement under which the two parties govern. Numerous royalist lawmakers

boycotted the NA, supported by 15 opposition SRP members.

"We have always respected any request made by the CPP which we thought was in

the interests of the CPP," said Ouk Socheath. "The result of this vote

shows the CPP had no intention of cooperating with Funcinpec."

Keo Remy said the vote against Savoeun was an attempt by the CPP to exploit divisions

within his party ahead of the general election.

But speaking after the August 8 vote, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the result

was democratic and fair and stressed the important role the alliance between the

CPP and Funcinpec has played in reducing political tensions.

A political observer, who would not be named, had earlier told the Post that if Funcinpec

was unable to solve its internal battle over the MoI position and end the boycott,

that could force a constitutional crisis threatening "the stability of society".

Funcinpec's leader and president of the National Assembly, Prince Norodom Ranariddh,

had played down the incident, telling Parliament on August 13 that the absent Funcinpec

lawmakers were not boycotting, but were ill or on a leave of absence.

"I have seen that there is no political crisis," Ranariddh said.

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