Cambodia's new assemblymen have welcomed the United Nations "hands-off"
approach toward the writing of the constitution but are disappointed by the lack
of logistical support for the process.
Senior members of the Constituent Assembly complain that what physical support they
have received from the world body for their historic task has been late, uncoordinated
and so far insufficient.
"We are trying to run a National Assembly without a budget. The moral responsibility
of UNTAC is to assist the National Assembly so we can do our job." said Tol
Lah, the secretary general of the assembly.
The Paris Peace Accords stipulate the principles which are to guide the writing of
the constitution. While UNTAC has decided not to be directly involved it has made
available its expertise although its ideas are not being pushed on the assembly members.
As one high-level UNTAC source put it, "the [hand's-off] policy is sensible,
it must be Cambodia's constitution, not America's, not UNTAC's. If we expect them
to live by it, they must accept it as their own."
Ken Pollack, a legal expert with UNTAC Human Rights said that while there are many
imaginable constitutions that are consistent with the principles outlined in the
Peace Agreements, "they are in fact very general."
Tol Lah approves fully of UNTAC's hands-off policy. He said that many goals of the
Paris Peace Accords were not achieved, but the election was successful, and a constituent
assembly was inaugurated. Now that Cambodia is ready to write a constitution, Tol
Lah described UNTAC's attitude as appropriate.
"They respect us and respect our sovereignty.... they leave us alone,"
With respect to logistical support, however, Tol Lah, whose office is concerned with
the physical operation of the assembly, said that UNTAC could be doing more.
Sam Borin has been assigned by UNTAC to coordinate the logistical support from the
United Nations. He said that so far they have provided paper, pencils, pens, ink,
chairs, desks, and are helping to renovate the assembly building. In addition they
have provided microphones and sound-systems, air-conditioning, generators and fuel.
A source in UNTAC said that part of the problem is that there are "too many
cooks" and they "seem so far to be spoiling the soup." The exact logistical
relationship with New York is still being worked out, he said, but while New York
is trying to clarify issues that logically should have been addressed by the end
of the elections, the National Assembly is struggling to get itself off the ground.
Sam Borin said that there are "some difficulties so far, but they will be worked
out." He said the exact relationship between UNTAC and the Constituent Assembly
is still being worked out.
In other developments, twelve members have been chosen for the committee empowered
to draft a constitution. Alternates were also chosen. Sonn San, leader of the Buddhist
Liberal Democratic Party is the chairman.
Tol Lah said that the assemblymen have not been given a draft constitution by Prince
Norodom Sihanouk, but have received advice from Co-President Prince Ranariddh on
some elements of a future constitution. Ranariddh suggested that polygamy and capital
punishment should continue to be outlawed, and that Buddhism remain the state religion.
But Prince Ranariddh has taken the position that it is up to the constituent assembly
to write the constitution, he said.
With respect to voting patterns, the Constituent Assembly accepted the stipulation
that all "important" matters would require a two-thirds majority of the
national assembly. There has been some public criticism expressed about the way in
which decisions have been made in the Constituent Assembly and how the voting has
been conducted. Some members have charged that votes are not being counted in the
Tol Lah denied this. He said that since the acceptance of the internal rules for
the assembly, every vote has been secret and counted. It is true that votes were
not counted for the special meetings of the elected representatives of Cambodia.
These were the meetings in which the 1970 coup d'état was annulled, Sihanouk
re-installed as the chief of state, and in which the Provisional National Government
was accepted. Voting on these matters was unanimous, he said. But for matters facing
the Constituent Assembly, three members of the assembly have been chosen by lottery
to care for the box in which votes are cast for matters that come up for decision.
These votes are secret.
As to what kind of constitution might emerge, Tol Lah said that "it is still
too early to say." Asked whether the nation would return to a monarchy he said:
"Prince Sihanouk has not asked for this, but if you understand the Cambodian
people, you know that it has become traditional to call [Prince Sihanouk] Your Royal