R ecent party politics in the National Assembly have thrust the issue of the
rules, powers and procedures of the National Assembly into the legal limelight.
This week's column will take a quick look at those rules and procedures and the
relationship between the Assembly and the other branches of the
The Assembly is primarily governed by Chapter VII, Articles
76 - 98 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and the "Internal
Regulations of the National Assembly" promulgated Oct 28, 1995. Other relevant
laws include the Electoral Law.
The International Regulations are
expressed in the form of a collection of "principles" rather than hard and fast
rules. The degree to which these principles can be interpreted or ignored is not
clear. This lack of clarity does not help promote the Rule of Law.
National Assembly Members
Although members of the Assembly
("MPs") are appointed to a particular geographic constituency, according to the
Constitution, MPs represent all of Cambodia and not just their
MPs have parliamentary immunity and may not be prosecuted
for their actions in the Assembly, except in severe cases.
If the seat of
an MP is left vacant by resignation, abandonment of work for three months
without permission, or death, a new MP must be chosen from the list of
candidates representing the same party in the same constituency. The
Constitution simply states that in the event of resignation, death or dismissal
of an MP, a replacement shall be appointed according to the Internal Rules and
the Electoral Law.
The internal hierarchy of the National
Assembly is headed by the President, followed by two Vice Presidents and nine
Commissions. The President as well as the Vice Presidents are elected by a
two-thirds vote of the Assembly.
There is one Permanent Committee and
nine standing Commissions. The Permanent Committee is comprised of the
President, the Vice Presidents, and the Chairmen of the standing
The President's role is to ensure that the Assembly complies
with the Constitution and the Internal Regulations. One of the President's most
significant powers is that of deciding when to allow an MP to speak. MPs may
address the Assembly only upon the President's recognition.
Committee is the most powerful group within the Assembly. It has the power to
set the agenda for the Assembly, thereby deciding what topics actually reach the
floor for debate. All proposed legislation must first pass through the Permanent
Committee, which will allocate detailed decision to various standing Commissions
or appoint a Special Commission.
The nine Commissions are headed by a
chairman , staffed by nine MPs, and are: Human Rights; Finance and Banking;
Economics, Investment, Agriculture, Environment & Rural Development;
Interior & National Defense; Foreign Affairs; Legislation; Education,
Religion, Culture & Tourism; Health, Social Affairs and Women's Affairs; and
Commerce, Energy, Public Works, Industry, Transport and
The role of the standing Commissions is to undertake
a detailed review of legislation under their expertise and then make
recommendations to the Assembly.
MPs who are also members of the Royal
Government cannot be on the Permanent Committee or other commissions.
The office of the General Secretary
has administrative control over the Assembly. Neither official may be an MP or a
leader of any political party. The position is filled by appointment from the
President, not by election.
The Assembly is to meet for at least
three months, twice each year. Any motion is usually passed upon a majority vote
of all MPs (not of a quorum of MPs, which is only 70 percent of the total).
Usually a vote is taken by a show of hands or by open ballot. On occasion a
secret ballot will be held, such as for the adoption of the Motion of Censure
against a Minister of the Royal Government.
MPs may speak only for up to
20 minutes. The President may extend speaking time up to an additional 30
minutes per topic.
Legislation may be proposed by the
Assembly. Draft laws are brought to the Assembly by the Permanent Committee.
From there, the laws are referred to a relevant standing Commission or a Special
Commission. Any MP may propose an amendment to the draft law under debate.
However, the proposal will not be heard if is aim is to reduce public income or
increase the burden on the public, according to the Constitution.
The Royal Government
MPs may force any Government official to
respond to questions raised by an MP. Response may be made in writing or
verbally before the Assembly, and must be made within seven days, according to
the Constitution and Internal Regulations.
More importantly, the Assembly
can dismiss any Minister through a Motion of Censure, upon a two thirds majority
vote of the Assembly. The vote must be based on a Notice of Reprimand, sponsored
by at least 30 MPs.
MPs may also vote to censure the entire Royal
Government through a vote of no confidence.
Although the Constitution requires that Assembly
sessions be held in public, both the Constitution and the International
Regulations give the President the discretionary authority to close any meeting
to the public.
Neither does the public have any guaranteed right to the
documents or legislation produced by the Assembly. Assembly records are kept by
the General Secretariat, but cannot be released to the public without permission
from the President of the Assembly. This is a provision creating a very
non-transparent system that could have pronounced negative effects on the
establishment of the rule of law in Cambodia, depending on implementation.
Discipline and Attendance
Attendance rules are fairly strict.
MPs are allowed only 15 days absence per session. Sickness for more than five
days requires a doctor's certificate. Absence without permission for three days
results in a salary penalty.
MPs are disciplined through a graduated
scale of sanctions: (1) notice of misconduct; (2) written notice of misconduct,
(3) reprimand, (4) reprimand and temporary dismissal.
A notice of
misconduct is issued by the President to any MP. A reprimand, however, requires
an open vote of the Assembly. An MP may be reprimanded if he or she fails to
alter his or her behavior after a written Notice of Misconduct has been given;
after three Notices of Misconduct during a 30 day period; to any MP who
seriously disrupts a meeting or causes other MPs to boycott a meeting; or to any
MP who humiliates, intimidates or threatens other MPs.
A reprimand with
dismissal can only occur if the MP fails to alter his or her behavior following
a reprimand, provokes violence, humiliates the Assembly or its President, or
humiliates the King. The penalty for a reprimand is a reduction in salary by
half and public notice of the reprimand. Reprimand and dismissal results in a 50
percent pay cut for two months, publication of the Reprimand and suspension from
the Assembly for 15 successive meetings.
- David Doran is the resident director of law firm Dirksen Flipse Doran &
Le. He has been working in and out of Cambodia, and writing on Cambodian law
issues, since 1992.