The National Assembly (NA) has unanimously passed draft amendments to several articles of the Constitution aiming to mandate single citizenship for the nation’s top office holders.
Amended during the NA’s plenary session attended by its 111 members on October 25 were 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 amendments, if promulgated, will establish a single-citizenship mandate for the prime minister and presidents of the NA, Senate and Constitutional Council.
Following the unanimous vote, NA president Heng Samrin and senior government officials took to Facebook to explain the purpose of the proposed changes.
“The National Assembly, Senate, Constitutional Council and government are the top institutions of the nation as stated in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
“They bear a high degree of responsibility for making decisions on key issues which are matters of life and death for the nation [and the single-citizenship mandate is necessary] in order to ensure the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cambodia, as well as safeguarding the national interest and protecting our people from foreign interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs and foreign control of Cambodia’s national and foreign policies,” said Samrin.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said: “Having been passed by the National Assembly, these draft amendments will now be sent to the Senate and Constitutional Council for their approval before being submitted to the King for his signature on a royal decree to promulgate them.
Serey Kosal, an NA member representing Banteay Meanchey province, said during the session that the draft amendments was the right decision. He said it was not considered a necessary requirement back when the Constitution was originally authored, but it is today.
“These amendments are not targeting any individuals or groups, rather they are being enacted to serve the interests of the nation and protect the future and destiny of the country,” he said.
Kosal said the Constitution has been manipulated and misinterpreted by some individuals who try to distract the public’s attention away from it with arguments that rely on the provisions of the Paris Peace Agreements of 30 years ago.
He said some people had even tried to commit a coup d’etat against the Constitution itself, without naming anyone or elaborating further.
Hun Many, an NA member representing Kampong Speu province, said the amendments are for the sake of the nation and in the interests of national security.
“Making a clear statement in our foundational laws requiring that our most important national institutions’ top leaders – the offices which decide the fate of our nation – possess only single Cambodian citizenship is intended to guarantee their sole devotion to serving our nation and its people, without conditions.
“It will also prevent any foreigner from implanting ideas in our leaders’ heads in order to gain power by wielding influence over the people serving in these four positions,” he said.
But Ou Chanrath – a former opposition lawmaker representing Takeo province and founder of the newly-established Cambodia Reform Party – disagreed, saying the amendments are detrimental to national unity and intended to prevent the full participation in government by Cambodians who possess dual-citizenship because they have lived abroad, mostly due to being refugees during Cambodia’s periods of conflict.
He said even if the amendments do not bar their participation outright, they would at least discourage them from joining the work of developing the country by getting involved with local politics and that it would be unjust.
“It isn’t surprising that they voted to proceed [because] the amendments are requested by the government and every member of the National Assembly belongs to the ruling party,” Chanrath said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in early October that the single-citizenship requirement would not be extended beyond the nation’s top leadership offices, nor would it affect a number of government officials currently in office who were forced to flee abroad during the war or due to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime who later returned to contribute to the nation’s development.
“We leave open many opportunities for those with dual-nationality to become senior ministers, ministers, vice-presidents of the National Assembly and Senate and so forth, while only restricting them from eligibility in these four national leadership roles,” he said.