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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sihanouk backs royalist charter

Sihanouk backs royalist charter

After weeks of secrecy, backroom maneuvering and mostly private disputes, Cambodia

may have a draft constitution to assess.

As this paper goes to press, sources close to the constitution are saying that the

final draft will be submitted to the draft committee on Thursday or Friday, Sept.

9 or 10. The drafting committee is expected to release the draft to the entire Constituent

Assembly by the weekend. First discussions will start on Monday, Sep. 13. By Wednesday,

Sep. 15 the constitution may be voted on.

The work on creating the constitution started in June when a committee of 12 members

of the newly elected Constituent Assembly was chosen to write a draft. Six members

were from FUNCINPEC, five from the former CPP and one from BLDP. They operated under

enforced rule of secrecy, but in the end, the draft they had prepared was unofficially

released.

It appears now that a separate draft was already available, a FUNCINPEC monarchical

document whose roots were the 1947 Cambodian Constitution. The document prepared

by the drafting committee was a republican one to the extent that the chief of state

and assembly would be elected, but the description of the chief of state, in power

and in character was king in all but name. To many observers both constitutions were

written with Sihanouk in mind.

After rumors that the "republican" document would be "set aside"

in favor of the FUNCINPEC document, both were reported to have been sent to Sihanouk

in Pyongyang. Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh presented the drafts to Sihanouk. Sihanouk

is reported to have congratulated the work of the drafting committee and the next

day returned both constitutions with annotations. He is reported to have noted that

he liked the monarchical draft. Upon their return to Phnom Penh, Hun Sen and Prince

Ranariddh reported that Sihanouk would be king.

It appears that Sihanouk reversed himself the next day and conflicting reports were

rife over the weekend about what it was that Sihanouk had or had not said and what

he had or had not committed himself to. On Saturday, 4 September, Sihanouk sent Mr.

Akashi an invitation to come to Peking for "an hour of political conversation

and lunch or dinner." It is not clear how estranged Sihanouk's relationship

with UNTAC is in spite of press reports that he had withdrawn as Chief of the SNC

and from supporting UNTAC.

It is the belief of many who have some chance of being right that the constitution

that the Assembly and Cambodia will see will be a monarchical one with extremely

limited powers for the king.

One government official who claimed to have seen the constitution said: "The

surprising thing is the content [of the constitution] which has been kept secret.

It looks like the country is going back 25 years into the past."

The official criticized the unclear separation of legislative, executive and judicial

powers. He said the head of state should be given a limited role, which could help

prevent any confrontation, but not allow him to interfere unduly in government affairs.

"You can be a referee holding a whistle, but you can not whistle and play soccer

at the same time," said the government official who requested anonymity.

Chem Sngoun, minister of justice and vice-chairman of the drafting committee of the

constitution stated that Prince Norodom Sihanouk rejected the right to veto, but

would maintain power to commute a sentence.

"Prince Norodom Sihanouk proposed that his power [in the constitution] be reduced.

He has only one power left which is the power to commute sentences," said Chem

Sngoun.

Chem Sngoun quoted the prince as saying that he would let the co-leaders of the government

chair the cabinet meetings. He will not directly command the armed forces. He also

rejected the idea of forming a government by himself, but on the other hand, he has

retained the power to appoint someone to form it. He agreed to hold an audience with

the government twice a month. Concerning the amendment of the constitution, it must

be made by a two-thirds vote of the assembly members.

"Prince Sihanouk reused the right to veto. All the bills voted by the assembly

members will be signed by the prince. He wants a very democratic constitution for

Cambodia," the vice-chairman said. Chem was unable to elaborate which draft

will be debated, unless a decision is made by the leaders of the four political parties

that won the May poll, he said.

"It is neither a monarchical, nor republican, but a democratic constitution,"

Chem Sngoun said.

"The draft constitution might keep the co-premier structure [of a permanent

government], but it is not yet certain who the co-premiers will be, Prince Ranariddh

and Hun Sen or somebody else," he said.

If the constitution is accepted, the United Nation's mission will be complete, its

mandate over. UNTAC, which has been marginalized, and has marginalized itself since

the election, will continue to withdraw on schedules already established. It is unclear

what it will do should the constitution not be accepted.

While the acceptance of the constitution will be the legal act which will be taken

as granting full sovereignty to the new Cambodian government, the fact is that sovereignty

has been asserted since the elections.

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