The Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC) will seek a consultation with King Norodom Sihamoni on amendments to several articles of the Constitution which would mandate that the Kingdom’s top national leadership positions be filled by people solely in possession of Cambodian citizenship.
This followed a vote approving the changes by the Council of Ministers on October 8.
“The Constitutional Council, chaired by president Im Chhun Lim, will hold a plenary meeting [on October 11] to review and prepare a presentation of the key concepts in the draft law to His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni . . .,” the CCC’s General Secretariat said in a press release on October 9.
The Council of Ministers passed the draft amendments to articles 19, 82, 106, 119 and 137 of the Constitution and articles 3 and 4 of the Additional Constitutional Law tending to ensure the regular functioning of national institutions.
The amended articles mandate that the positions of prime minister and presidents of the National Assembly, Senate and Constitutional Council all be filled by persons who hold Cambodian citizenship with no dual-citizens allowed in those roles.
The impetus behind these changes was apparently fuelled by “false” media reports claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen had acquired a Cypriot passport, an allegation which he strenuously denied and which was subsequently retracted by the UK-based Guardian newspaper.
The Guardian’s amended reporting now states that unnamed members of Hun Sen’s “inner circle” were in possession of such passports rather than the prime minister himself.
The information in their report was said to have been gleaned from the massive Pandora Papers data dump leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The organisation is working with over 150 media outlets to produce reports on the data contents which largely focus on the use of offshore trusts by some of the world’s wealthiest people as a means to obscure their financial activities.
The now-retracted allegation was immediately echoed by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy on his social media accounts. Rainsy further alleged that Hun Sen had actually purchased the passport for an unknown sum.
During the Council of Ministers meeting on October 8, the prime minister said the drafting of the amendment was done quickly in urgent response to these false reports and was to maintain public confidence in the government.
He noted that the single-citizenship requirement would not be extended to undersecretary of state for ministries because the results would be too exclusionary and would affect a number of current government officials who were forced to flee abroad during the war and Khmer Rouge genocidal period and later returned to contribute to national development.
“We leave open the opportunities for those with dual-nationality to become senior ministers, ministers, vice-presidents of the National Assembly and Senate while only restricting them from eligibility in four national leadership roles,” he said.
Hun Sen suggested that Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Prak Sokhonn and Minister of Justice Koeut Rith work with their Cypriot counterparts to determine the source of the allegation because it negatively affected the reputation of Cambodian and Cypriot leaders.
“We have requested state-to-state cooperation [with Cyprus]. We cannot simply dismiss this matter as frivolous or treat it as unimportant because it concerns the slander of one of Cambodia’s national leaders and it tarnishes the image of the Cypriot government, so we have to look into it,” Hun Sen said.
He said a written note had already been sent to the EU ambassador in Phnom Penh and to the UK ambassador as well because the Guardian is based in the UK. Cambodian ambassador to China Khek Cai Mealy Sysoda also plans to discuss the issue with the Cypriot envoy there.
CCC secretary-general Taing Ratana could not be reached for comment on this matter.
However, according to Hun Sen, the CCC will examine whether the amendments run contrary to existing principles enshrined in Cambodian laws, especially as it relates to the constitutional monarchy and the requirement that Cambodia be a multi-party liberal democracy.
The CCC will submit their opinions to the King, who will then confirm the proposed changes and pass them along to the National Assembly for a full vote.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the government, National Assembly, Senate and CCC are the top national institutions responsible for making decisions deemed as matters of life or death for the nation, such as ensuring national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said.
“[The amendment] aims to protect the national interests and the people of Cambodia from interference into the internal affairs of the nation by foreign powers and to prevent external influences from shaping the country’s national and foreign policies,” Siphan said.
The new draft Article 119 states that at the request of the president – and with the approval of the two vice-presidents of the National Assembly – the King shall appoint the prime minister from among the parliamentarians of the party with the most seats in the National Assembly in order to form the government.
Article 119 states that the prime minister post must be filled by a parliamentarian from the ruling party with the most seats in the National Assembly and must be a Cambodian citizen from birth currently in sole-possession of Cambodian citizenship.
Similarly, the newly drafted Article 82 states the same about the National Assembly president while Article 106 stipulates it concerning the president of the Senate.