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
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
Ranariddh told reporters on January 15 that he would defer to
the King's opinion, and would instead discuss the issue with Senate President
"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
"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."
Kanharith did say the Senate vote could be postponed for a year due to lack of
"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
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