The National Assembly (NA) on July 28 voted in favour of adopting changes to six articles of the Constitution and two articles of the Additional Constitutional Law – the 10th amendment to Cambodia’s founding charter since the completion of the original document in 1993.
The constitutional articles that were amended are 19, 89, 98, 102, 119 and 125, along with revisions to articles 3 and 4 of the Additional Constitutional Law.
“The National Assembly has unanimously approved the draft amendment to the Constitution at its plenary session with 105 members in attendance,” said the Ministry of Justice in a press statement.
The NA said the amendment of these articles is intended to ensure the regular functioning of national institutions, especially the executive body, and to make sure that they are able to maintain continuity of government under all circumstances.
It also safeguards peace, social security and public order as well as political stability in the Kingdom in all situations, which is the basis for development in all sectors and the happiness of the people, the NA said.
The adoption of the 10th amendment was criticised by some opposition parties, while some NGOs also raised concerns about its effect on the parliamentary system and multi-party democracy principles.
On July 21, four political parties – Candlelight (CP), Khmer Will (KWP), Cambodian Reform (CRP) and Grassroots Democratic (GDP) – submitted a petition to the NA requesting that they vote against the draft amendment, arguing that the changes would weaken the power of the legislature should it be adopted.
Similar concerns were raised by more than 100 local NGOs and associations on July 27. They said this amendment did not reflect the will of the people, affected multi-party democratic principles, weakened national unity and undermined the parliamentary system.
To defend the amendment, justice minister Koeut Rith took to the NA floor where he also responded to the petition made by the four parties.
The minister said the four parties – out of the nearly 50 parties registered with the Ministry of Interior – should compare the changes adopted by the NA to the parliamentary systems of countries such as the UK or Malaysia, which operate under similar rules.
On concerns raised in the petition about difficulties born from this amendment regarding the formation of a coalition government, Koeut Rith said there was nothing to worry about because such a government could still be formed after the constitutional amendment.
The petition also said the amendment would reduce the power of the National Assembly due to an increase in the number of lawmakers required for making a motion of censure of the government from 30 previously to one-third of the total members.
The minister said this should not concern anyone, as one-third of the current total number of NA members – 125 – amounts to only 42.
According to Koeut Rith, the amendment to Article 98 is to ensure the smoothness and consistency of the revised articles with the rest of the Constitution, and it did not affect the power of the NA as it still has the full power to depose any government officials or the whole government based on a vote in favour of it by a super-majority of the NA members.
He said the changes are not different from the previous nine amendments which were undertaken to fill gaps in the Constitution and to advance national interests.
“What’s important in this 10th amendment is that it ensures that national institutions, especially the government, will continue to work smoothly without any deadlocks and guarantee their sustainability in all situations,” he said.
“It ensures that the government can proceed without any stalemates in all situations. It is what the nation and the people want and that’s why it must be enshrined in the Constitution.”
The minister said Cambodia has previously experienced deadlock which led the Cambodian people down the wrong path, and that nobody wants to see a situation like that happen again except for some political parties opposed to the government who believe it would be in their own best interests.
“They always look for any means or opportunities to exploit loopholes in the Constitution and make trouble in order to paralyse the national institutions and force them into intractable stalemates to disrupt the work of the government so they can hold its institutions hostage to their interests and demand ransoms in the form of political bargains that only benefit them.
“Therefore, the declaration of these four parties saying that they don’t support this 10th amendment to the Constitution is just typical behaviour for them and it’s not actually based on any good reasons. It has nothing to do with protecting the parliamentary system or multi-party democracy whatsoever,” he said.
Hun Many, NA member for Kampong Speu province and chairman of the Assembly’s 7th Commission, took to social media to air his support for the amendment.
“As a lawmaker representing voters, I fully support this initiative. We all want to see the country develop and move forward without pause and with a good political atmosphere and stability, which are vital for doing business, expanding education, upholding human rights of all kinds and infrastructure development,” he posted after the NA session.