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Changes to Constitution to fill loopholes: Minister

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Justice minister Koeut Rith (centre) speaks at a press conference at his ministry on July 14. YOUSOS APDOULRASHIM

Changes to Constitution to fill loopholes: Minister

Minister of Justice Koeut Rith has explained the reasons behind the proposed amendment to six articles of the Constitution and two articles of the Additional Constitutional Law Tending to Ensure the Regular Functioning of National Institutions, saying it was necessary to fix loopholes.

According to documents released by the ministry – which were already approved by the Council of Ministers on July 8 – the six articles of the Constitution to be amended are 19, 89, 98, 102, 119 and 125, while the two articles of the Additional Constitutional Law are 3 and 4.

Article 19 of the Constitution deals with the appointment of the prime minister and Council of Ministers by the King, as further elaborated in Article 119. Article 89 is about the National Assembly’s (NA) power to seek clarifications from high-ranking officials.

Article 98 concerns the NA’s power to adopt motions of censure to dismiss a member or members of the government from office, while article 102 concerns the Senate and the length of a Senator’s term in office.

Article 119 details the appointment of the prime minister and Council of Ministers by the King. Article 125 stipulates that if the post of prime minister is “permanently vacant” – in the event of resignation or death – a new council of ministers will be formed, and if it is “temporarily vacant”, an acting prime minister will be appointed.

The minister also rejected media reports which said the amendments were drafted “secretly”, because the amendments have followed the procedures as stated in the Constitution.

In a press conference held at the justice ministry on July 14, Koeut Rith said the amendments had not been written in secrecy and that the purpose was to close loopholes left in the 1993 Constitution and to ensure the national interests of Cambodia.

“I want to stress again that this amendment process was not done secretly. If you ask why the draft was not released earlier, that is because the fact is the Constitutional Council had not approved it earlier, so how could we release it?” he explained.

The minister said that after the government announced the amendments to these articles, there had been speculation and commentary by some that did not reflect the facts of the situation.

According to draft article 119, a party that has the most seats in the NA can request that the King assigns a high-ranking figure as prime minister to form the Royal Government, and a copy of the proposal from the party must be submitted to the president of the NA.

“The high-ranking figure who will be appointed as prime minister has to be a member of parliament who only has Cambodian citizenship and no others and they must be chosen from the party that has the most seats in the NA,” the draft article states.

Article 125 is about the vacancy of the prime minister’s post due to resignation and death. According to the draft article, if the office of prime minister is vacant due to death or resignation, a new Council of Ministers must be immediately appointed.

The appointment comes through a meeting of the NA who then take the necessary actions within seven days at most after receiving a proposal from the party with the most seats in the NA.

Regarding the contents of draft article 125, Koeut Rith said the new section added to it covers the responsibility of the outgoing government in ensuring that the daily work of governance is done until a new government comes into office.

“In the UK, Boris Johnson recently resigned. He was not deposed, so he will still be the acting PM who leads and takes care of the daily work of his office. This is also the same system as in Belgium,” he said.

According to Koeut Rith, if approved, this would mark the 10th amendment to the Constitution since 1993, all of which were undertaken “for the good of the nation”. He said it is normal that the laws as well as the Constitution are regularly amended and what is important is its purpose. And if it is to serve the interests of the people and the nation, there is nothing wrong with doing so, he added.

He said the amendment is necessary based on the development of the situation in the country, and it is no different from other nations around the world.

The minister said, however, that there are three bases under which the Constitution cannot be amended: During a state of emergency; in ways that affect the multi-party democratic principle; and anything affecting the status of the regime of constitutional monarchy.

This proposed amendment does not affect these three core bases of the Constitution and the Constitutional Council has already determined as such in a meeting on July 13, he said.

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