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Rules of the National Assembly

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

government.

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

constituency.

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.

Parliamentary Structures

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

Commissions.

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.

The Permanent

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

Telecommunications.

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.

Administrative Structure

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.

Parliamentary Procedure

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.

Legislative Procedure

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.

Public Access

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.

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