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Senate vote doubtful

Senate vote doubtful

The future of next year's Senate elections remains in doubt, some two weeks

after Funcinpec leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh proposed that the vote to elect

senators to their positions be canceled.

Ranariddh told journalists on

January 2 the country could not afford to hold both a general election this year

and a Senate election in 2004. The only solution, he suggested, was for King

Norodom Sihanouk to appoint the senators, as he did in 1998 when the institution

was created.

That, however, would require an amendment to the

Constitution, which stipulates that senators must face election every six years.

The idea caused outrage among the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and NGOs,

who said it would undermine democracy.

The King announced that he would

refuse to be involved in such a scheme.

"The Senate must 'come' from the

sovereign people," he wrote. "The Senators must be elected

by the

people."

Ranariddh told reporters on January 15 that he would defer to

the King's opinion, and would instead discuss the issue with Senate President

Chea Sim.

"We have to take the opinion of the King for consideration

before we decide what we are going to do," he said. "Now I wait for Samdech Chea

Sim. If he wants to meet me to discuss the issue, I am ready anytime."

Government spokesperson Khieu Kanharith played down speculation. He said

the fate of the Senate vote remained undecided, but was not a government

priority.

"Right now we have to concentrate all our brains on the general

election [set for July 27]," he told the Post. "There are no official proposals

to cancel or postpone the Senate elections. There is no comment from the Cabinet

or the Prime Minister or anyone except Prince Ranariddh."

However

Kanharith did say the Senate vote could be postponed for a year due to lack of

funding.

"This is one possibility, but the Ministry of Economy and

Finance hasn't rung the alarm bell so we are not concerned about this," he

said.

The 61-member body was formed as an act of political expediency to

break the deadlock between the two major parties after the 1998 general

election. It was first convened in 1999 when the Senators were appointed by the

King for a five year term.

The Constitution, as amended in March 1999,

specifies that two senators are to be nominated by the King, two by majority

vote, while the rest must be elected by the people.

The SRP said its

position was that the Senate should either be democratically elected or

eliminated altogether.

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