Sihanouk Returns to be King
The Constituent Assembly, after spending five days in heated debate, ratified the
draft constitution officially on Sep. 21, paving the way for its transformation into
a National Assembly. The signing ceremony which took place on a sultry Tuesday morning
marked another significant step by the political parties to bring peace and stability
to the country after decades of conflict.
"This September 21, 1993 remains for the history of Cambodia-as for the Khmer
people themselves-a great historical day after the adoption by the Constituent Assembly
of the draft constitution," Son Sann, chairman of the constituent assembly,
said in his speech after the 120 members cast their votes to adopt the final text.
The constitution was passed by 113 votes in favor-well in excess of the two thirds
majority demanded in the secret vote provision-with five votes against and two abstentions.
"I am very satisfied with this overwhelming, massive vote for the adoption of
the constitution. It's better than a unanimous vote. The five against and two abstentions
indicate that Cambodia is a very liberal democratic country," Prince Norodom
Ranariddh, the first co-premier said after the session closed.
"The result lays a new foundation that we Khmers will be able to reconstruct
a Cambodia as prosperous as in the Angkor era," he added.
All the assembly's members applauded in approval of the constitution after Son Sann
put his signature to the text. He noted, however, that the constitution still needed
further amendments until it meets the aspirations of the people.
"I want to affirm our determination to continue our work in the name of the
people whom we are the representatives of, by trying to gather all that is good to
make laws and by not hesitating to reject what is anti-democratic, not in conformity
to the national interests," he said.
"I never cease to repeat that if we are divided, the Khmer people will be weak,
instead in national unity and concord, we will be strong," he stated.
The adoption of the 14-chapter, 139-article document fully endorsed the resurrection
of the monarchy with Prince Norodom Sihanouk as king, 38 years after he abdicated
the throne in favor of his father in 1955 to expand his political role. In an already
agreed move, the prince will appoint two co-prime ministers-FUNCINPEC leader Prince
Ranariddh and Cambodian People's Party head Hun Sen-to form the new government. Prince
Ranariddh has said that the number of members in the cabinet would be limited to
20 or 21 when the new government is formed.
Speaking shortly after the signing, Prince Ranarridh said the ratification of the
constitution would put the government in a much better position to deal with the
"The strongest argument to deal with the Khmer Rouge is definitely not the weapon.
But, the strongest document is the constitution which has just been overwhelmingly
adopted by the real representatives of the people and we will use that constitution,
legally against the Khmer Rouge," Prince Ranariddh said. Asked about the fifteen
percent power sharing arrangement the Khmer Rouge had demanded, he said they would
be given "zero" percent.
The Prince and Hun Sen will attend the General Assembly of the United Nations and
the special session of the Security Council on Cambodia at the end of this month,
At the end of the meeting, the people's representatives left the assembly hall for
a photograph-taking session which was accompanied by the playing of the national
anthem to mark the closure of the second session of the constitution assembly which
had opened the week before.
The debate started with a direct broadcast through loudspeakers outside the assembly
building and it was the first time since the drafters first huddled behind closed
doors to begin drawing up the constitution that the public and human rights groups
got a chance to publicly find out what it was like. Ponleu Khmer, a coalition of
Cambodian NGOs pushing for a truly democratic constitution, had been critical of
the secretive manner in which the drafts were prepared and along with the Asia Foundation
were accused by Prince Ranariddh of being pro-CIA.
"We have tried our best through back door and front door in order to learn about
it (the constitution). They must show the people where is democracy because the new
constitution is vitally important for the future of our country," said Sochua
Leiper, president of Khemara, shortly before the debate began.
"The elections elected people's representatives, not individuals. If the
constitution is made for all the people, the people must know what it says,"
said Meas Somaly, president of the Association for Development and Education.
On the first day of the debate, the pro-democracy activists organized a rally at
the assembly house of about 600 activists, monks and nuns holding banners to welcome
the inauguration of the proceedings. They said the secrecy of the drafting process
was a deviation from the principles of the Paris Peace Accords. They also dispatched
four representatives to listen to discussions in the meeting hall.
Delegates started debating the draft's first two chapters which call for Prince Norodom
Sihanouk, long a unique symbol of national reconciliation, to ascend the throne and
become king of Cambodia again.
Two of the six articles in the first chapter read:
Cambodia is a Kingdom, the Monarch of which complies with the constitution and a
pluralistic liberal democracy. The Kingdom of Cambodia is an independent, sovereign,
peaceful, neutral and non-aligned state in its continuity.
The motto of the Kingdom of Cambodia is: nation, religion, Monarch.
A later chapter reads: "The Cambodian Monarch reigns but does not govern."
Originally it had been proposed that the prince enjoy vast powers including the right
to appoint the prime minister, to command the armed forces and to dismantle the parliament.
But the assembly, bowing to the pressure of a 'small group of republicans' and local
NGOs who feared that Sihanouk might return to enjoy the 'dual role' he played in
ruling Cambodia until 1970, agreed to curtail the monarch's powers.
"The thing we have left to the king is simply what we call a nominal function
of powers of any head of state. I have to say that this the king has less power than
any president in any republic regime," Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the leader
of the government, told journalists during the first day of the session.
The assemblymen quickly passed the 30 articles regarding the restoration of the monarchy
during the first two hours of the session. The process slowed down when they began
a debate on the provisions of law, human rights and citizenship issues. Most of the
arguments centered on revisions to the wording of the draft charter. The articles
required no voting, but ultimate consensus of the proposals raised by the people's
representatives. For instance, in Article 38, Ieng Mouly of Buddhist Liberal Democratic
Party (BLDP) suggested changes in the phrase from "...arrest or detention of
any individual can be conducted provided law permits" to "...can be conducted
provided there is a proper implementation of law".
"I am worried that the power holders could exceed the limits of law as they
used to do before, and people just ran away when they received an invitation from
the chief of the village," Ieng Mouly said at the session.
Regarding provisions on citizenship, the assembly members insisted the words "Khmer
citizens" be changed to "all Cambodian citizens", which includes ethnic
Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams and hill tribespeople. They also agreed to set up a non-governmental
commission on human rights in the assembly.
"It's very significant because after 24 years of all kinds of regimes for the
first time the people's representatives have decided the constitution for the country,"
said Prince Ranariddh.
"The atmosphere is very interesting and very democratic. Mostly, they showed
a spirit of reconciliation without demonstrating any left or right wing. What is
important is that they paid a lot of attention to human rights issues," said
Khut Inserey, an assistant at the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
Delegates spent almost two hours before they found consensus on Article 79 which
states that it is incompatible for members of parliament to hold government portfolios.
Some participants commented that debate on the article went far beyond healthy discussion.
They said strong arguments arose as some MPs from FUNCINPEC demanded the assemblymen
could play a dual role while MPs from CPP insisted in keeping the original sentence
which applies to a clear separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers.
Pol Ham, a BLDP assemblyman, was sceptical about imposing a two third majority procedure
to vote for any decision making and did not think that it can be found among the
"This formula seems to weaken an opposition's ability to resist any decision
made by the national assembly and the government. In case of the need to change the
government it will be difficult to find the two thirds, but everything is already
set," he said, adding he preferred a simple majority.
The constitution endorsed the co-prime minister formula making Prince Ranariddh the
'first co-premier' and Hun Sen 'second co-premier'.
"Though I am a co-prime minister I've already given the first position to Sdech
Krom Luong (Prince Ranariddh) as you can see in protocol, or at least I respect his
age because he is older than I am," Hun Sen said, adding that work procedures
pursued by the two co-premiers would be equal.
He admitted the formula was strange, but said it was necessary to help prevent rifts
in the country.
"I'd like to say because it's strange that's why Cambodia is not Afghanistan,
Angola, Yugoslavia or Somalia," he said.
U.N. officials argued that such a joint portfolio structure is unlikely to continue
to be practised in the next term of the government, but given the reality of the
current political situation in Cambodia, they could see little alternative. To be
clear, the two third majority insisted on by the CPP who have 51 seats in the 120-seat
assembly was believed to be a tactic to prevent FUNCINPEC from getting real decision
"The point is right now Cambodia needs stability, it needs to say to the international
community that now 'we have stability, consensus, to start reconstruction, rehabilitation,"
said Lt. Gen. John Sanderson.
He went on to say, "Of course, in the fullness of time, there will not be two
prime ministers. There can only be one, but right now they need this consensus to
And by having the constitution adopted, observers strongly believe that the government
will undoubtedly have both the moral and legal authority to deal with any illegal
acts that threaten the future stability of the country.