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Assembly opening avoids controversy

Assembly opening avoids controversy

T HE National Assembly reopened Oct 21, two days before the fifth anniversary of the

Paris Peace Agreements, with a vivid example of MPs' reluctance to buck the government

line.

Several potentially-controversial items were taken off the first day's parliamentary

agenda, to the disappointment of the assembly's more outspoken MPs.

"This shows that the government does not view the National Assembly as anything

but a rubber-stamp," said BLDP MP Son Chhay.

A Western political observer said the opening day illustrated the limits of the democratic

progress made since the Paris agreements: "National Assembly members can't make

laws, they can't change laws and now they can't even speak in the chamber."

The 7th Session of the National Assembly was opened with a speech from the King,

who spoke out against continued deforestation and plunder of Cambodian artifacts.

Next on the agenda was to have been a report from the Prime Ministers on the Khmer

Rouge situation, individual reports to the assembly by all the parliamentary commissions

on their activities, and debate over the appointment of the new Minister of Women's

Affairs and the Secretary of State for Relations with the National Assembly.

Within minutes, all three items were cancelled. First, MPs were told that the Prime

Ministers had asked for a postponement of their report on the KR, and also a delay

in the assembly's debate on the new government appointments.

Then the assembly voted 31-76 not to accept the reports of the commission heads.

CPP MPs voted en masse against the reports being given, while Funcinpec MPs were

divided.

MPs said the move to change the agenda was led by assembly Secretary-General Than

Sina (Funcinpec) who believed that individual reports from the commissions were unnecessary.

"If we cannot express ourselves in the parliament, then the Cambodian people

cannot express themselves," said Kem Sokha (BLDP), head of the commission on

human rights.

Previously, the assembly's nine commissions have given reports on their activities

to the Secretary-General, who produced one general report to the assembly.

Kann Man (Funcinpec), chairman of the commission on health, social welfare and women's

affairs, said the commissions had been trying for two years to get the right to present

reports directly to the assembly.

Despite having obtained the approval of the assembly's permanent standing committee

to do so, MPs voted to scrap the plan.

"I'm extremely disappointed... I believe the reason why we were banned from

presenting these [reports] is that had we done so, it would have effected the dignity

of the government," Man said.

"They don't want the people to know the bad side of the story in Cambodia. They

want the people only to know what the government believes is good."

In his prepared report to the assembly, Man had intended to raise issues such as

poor labor conditions, increasing prostitution and the spread of HIV/Aids.

Sokha had produced a report, approved by all the members of his human rights commission,

raising issues such as the trafficking of women and children for sex, arbitrary arrests

and extra-judicial killings by soldiers and police, and land disputes.

"The National Assembly commissions work very hard and we should report our activities,"

said Sokha. "The commissions are representatives of the Cambodian people."

Son Chhay (BLDP), secretary of the commission on education, religion, culture and

tourism, said MPs on commissions were "feeling very empty right now".

Of other MPs, however, he said: "It's normal for the National Assembly to work

this way, so they are not too disappointed."

Kann Man, asked why a majority of MPs voted against allowing the commissions' reports,

shook his head and said: "Frankly, I don't understand."

Than Sina, the assembly's Secretary-General, did not want to comment except to say

that MPs considered that separate reports from each commission would be "repetitive."

Meanwhile, advisers to both Prime Ministers said the report on the Khmer Rouge situation

was being prepared by the Ministry of Defense and would be presented to the assembly

in the future.

The report had been requested by the assembly's permanent standing committee in an

Oct 4 letter signed by chairman Chea Sim. Political observers noted that the move

was initiated by Chea Sim, apparently as an attempt to get the government to explain

its favorable treatment of the Ieng Sary-led KR breakaway faction.

Also unclear is when the long-awaited new Minister of Women's Affairs and Secretary

of State for Relations with the National Assembly will be appointed.

Mu Sochua, endorsed by both PMs as Minister of Women's Affairs, has been waiting

for more than six months for her appointment to be approved by MPs. Tep Darong, nominated

for the Secretary of State position which acts as a liaison between the government

and the assembly, has already three times been rejected by MPs.

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