The Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC) has informed King Norodom Sihamoni that the proposed amendment to several articles of the Constitution that would mandate single citizenship for the top leadership positions does not violate the principles of the constitutional monarchy and is in accord with the constitutional requirement that Cambodia be a multi-party liberal democracy.
The CCC reached these conclusions at their October 11 session chaired by its president Im Chhun Lim.
The session was held expressly to review the changes 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.
“As the result of the full session of the Constitutional Council held to submit opinions about the amendments to His Majesty … the request to amend articles 19, 82, 106, 119 and 137 of the Constitution and articles 3 and 4 of the Additional Constitutional Law … can be made as requested within this specific context without any impact on the viability of the multi-party liberal democratic system or the principles of the constitutional monarchy,” the CCC said in a press statement.
It said the amendment is made also during the time when there is a state of emergency.
CCC spokesperson Prom Vichet Akara told The Post after the session that they were able to come to the decision and submit it to the King. He declined to elaborate further, referring reporters to the official press statement.
In news related to controversial reports that apparently prompted the government to push for the amendment, Elisabeth Ribbans – the readers’ editor at the UK-based Guardian – wrote a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in response to its request for clarification regarding the newspaper’s initial report alleging that Prime Minster Hun Sen had acquired a Cypriot passport.
The report, which cited the Pandora Papers released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, was later retracted.
“I can reassure you that the error was notified to me by the Guardian’s own editorial staff yesterday and the article was amended and footnoted accordingly.
“You can see the updated version of the article in which the reference to Prime Minister Hun Sen [no longer appears] online on [the Guardian’s website],” Ribbans said in the letter.
“The editor regrets the concern caused to Prime Minister Hun Sen and it is hoped that our prompt action to rectify this error provides a satisfactory resolution,” she added.
The amendment of the Constitution mandating single Cambodian citizenship for the prime minister and presidents of the National Assembly, Senate and CCC drew strong support from officials from various government institutions, but outside analysts are still at odds over the actual importance of the matter.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay was of the view that the amendment would be of no benefit.
He said that according to the Constitution as currently established, the top leaders that the amendment is targeting have no institutional power themselves. He explained that the presidents of these institutions are just one of the members of that particular body and any power they wield is delegated to them via vote by the other members in accordance with democratic principles.
“Therefore, in order for the top national institutions to use their power to serve national interests, the amendment has to require all members of the institutions to have just a single citizenship as well. Otherwise, the current proposed amendment is useless,” he said.
Khin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the amendment to the Constitution would not damage national or public interests.
He said that whatever its technical merits, it could serve to improve people’s confidence in their leaders by contributing to an overall impression that they are free from conflicts of interest derived from the privileges of holding multiple passports, which is unseemly in appearance at best when done by the nation’s leaders.
“We have to look at the scope of it. It covers only four high offices – prime minister and the presidents of the National Assembly, Senate and Constitutional Council. So it won’t really affect other people who have two citizenships who are contributing to the development of the country.
“I just want to stress that this amendment doesn’t affect our national interests or the average person and it possibly contributes to ensuring political stability and increasing society’s level of patriotism,” he said.
He said the law may not solve any existing problem but it could eliminate the possibility of the appearance of any such problem, which can by itself improve public confidence – but it should be very clear on the matter of whether the single Cambodian citizenship for the top leadership in those four offices is only from birth or if it can be achieved through naturalisation.
Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who first shared the Guardian’s controversal reports regarding Hun Sen’s alleged acquisition of the Cypriot passport, shrugged off the proposed amenment to the Consitution.
“This is ridiculous and useless,” he briefly told The Post when reached for comment on October 11.