Three controversial draft laws that sailed through the National Assembly last month were rubber-stamped by the Senate yesterday, according to a Senate statement, amid an opposition boycott of the session and despite near-universal condemnation.
Forty-four senators from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party voted to adopt the three bills.
The Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Courts, the Law on the Amendment of the Supreme Council of Magistracy and the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors will officially go into effect when signed by King Norodom Sihamoni.
“The plenary session of the Senate’s 44 lawmakers examined [the laws] and decided to absolutely adopt the three draft laws without change,” the Senate statement says.
As was the case in the National Assembly, where the Cambodia National Rescue Party is still refusing to take its seats, the laws were passed without the participation of the 11 opposition senators, who boycotted the session.
“The lack of public consultation on the draft laws sees Cambodia moving toward a military junta with its power derived from a Constitutional coup, and it is no different from the [Khmer Rouge regime] between 1975 and 1979,” the opposition senators wrote in statement on Wednesday.
Civil society groups have universally decried the laws, which will give the Ministry of Justice control over the administration of courts, the Supreme Council of Magistracy and the promotions and disciplining of judges and prosecutors, effectively erasing the division between the judicial and executive branches of government, they argue.
Constitutionally speaking, the laws won’t be enacted without the King’s signature. Om Daravuth, an adviser to the office of the Queen Mother, said yesterday that he had not seen the draft laws, and was unsure of how the King would approach them, but said he would give the laws his full attention.
“I could not say anything at the moment about whether the King will sign the draft laws or not, because the draft laws are not yet in my hands,” Daravuth said. “I know that the draft laws were criticised by civil society groups, so when the drafts are in my hand I will examine them before reporting to the King.”
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, however, was confident yesterday that the laws would come into effect without challenge.
“As for the [laws that] pass, the King has never refused to sign them,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay also said it was unlikely that the King would stall the laws, and noted that even Sihamoni’s father, King Father Norodom Sihanouk, would register his protest with flawed legislation by simply leaving the signing to someone else.
“Our King Father, when he was unhappy with such-and-such a law, he … would go to get medical treatment in China, and would let the acting head of state [constitutionally, the president of the Senate] sign on his behalf,” Mong Hay said. “The King’s son has less latitude – or none at all, actually – to be like his father. It is very unlikely he would refuse to sign and promulgate those three laws.”
Given the laws’ fundamental nature, they should be subject to review by the Constitutional Council, though even that body would be unlikely to block them, Mong Hay added, noting that the council has made “no objection I can remember”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE