Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Controversial Senate Bill ready for debate

Controversial Senate Bill ready for debate

Controversial Senate Bill ready for debate

THE controversial and long-awaited draft law to establish Cambodia's new Senate will

be debated at an extraordinary National Assembly session at the end of this month,

an Assembly official has confirmed.

Legislation commission chair Monh Saphan said that his commission has completed discussing

the draft and is now sending it to the Assembly for approval.

He said the plan is to establish 61 senatorial positions, half of the number of MPs.

The first term of the Senate will last for five years, while the second term will

last for six years.

"For this first term, we have decided that senators are to be chosen by the

three parties who have seats in the Assembly, and for the next term there will be

a universal election," he said.

The new blueprint may put to rest lobbying for posts from members of defeated political

parties or NGOs, but runs counter to King Sihanouk's ideas, who cautioned in a Jan

9 interview against creating "a useless Constitution", arguing that most

Senate members should be elected from different professions and NGOs which defend

human rights.

In a Jan 19 interview with palace staff, the King recommended that he, the government

and the Assembly nominate two Senators each; "the other Senators ought to be

elected from different professional bodies".

He also cautioned: "[I]t is better not to hurry to arrive at a definitive solution,

because it is necessary to avoid the ëdelivery' of a useless institution to our country."

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party came out in support of the King's position in a Jan

20 statement.

Although the party had previously suggested a public referendum on the issue, it

now endorses the idea of "universal indirect suffrage" to choose the senators.

Establishing the Senate, an entirely new government body, was a crucial agreement

in CPP's discussions with Funcinpec leading to the formation of the coalition government

in November 1998.

The theoretical chamber will provide a prestigious post - chairman - for influential

CPP president Chea Sim, whose former job, National Assembly chairman, has been taken

by Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Ranariddh has said that the sooner the legislation is approved, the better.

"We have also signed on the agreement ... so the Funcinpec does not object anymore,"

he said Jan 13, after a Faculty of Medicine conference.

However, plenty of others still are objecting strongly to the establishment and formation

of the Senate, which requires extensive Constitutional change and at least 61 new

salaries to pay.

A group of NGOs, in a Dec 11 statement, suggested "developing the role of the

Constitutional Council to fulfil some of the functions of the proposed Senate,"

including designating the head of the Council - presumably a job for Chea Sim - as

acting head of state in the King's absence.

Sam Sun Doeun, the sole SRP member on the legislative commission, said he expressed

strong objections to the draft but was overruled by the majority.

"Like other Rainsy MPs, I myself still retain my stance against creating this

body," he said. "Our country is very poor, everything that happens, contamination,

deforestation, teacher's strike - these are the problems we should solve instead

of creating a Senate."

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