Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Taking it to the Street Takeo

Taking it to the Street Takeo

Taking it to the Street Takeo

Make sure the Constitution divides powers so they are all separate, and a member

of Parliament is not also the governor, so he can't just put people in jail for however

long he wants,"

This is the recommendation of a teacher in Takeo province. As a participant of a

public debate between the people of Takeo province and their newly elected representatives

of the Cambodian Constituent Assembly, he re-iterated the oft-repeated plea for an

independent judiciary when asked for his recommendations for the Constitution. Kem

Sokha, Nop Lean and Sin Seang were the Assemblymen participating in this un-precedented

exchange between representatives and their constituents.

"This is as new for me as it is for you," Kem told the crowd of 150 gathered

at Wat Seyha Watanaram in Takeo. "We are just starting to practice democracy,

and this is what it means. I have come in order to meet you, to listen to your views

regarding the Constitution, and to take them back. For the Constitution must serve

the people."

This historic open meeting was organized by Vigilance, a human rights organization,

and Ponleu Khmer, a coalition of over 15 local groups attempting to democratize the

constitution-writing process.

Over 800 residents of Takeo participated in the workshop, over the two day period,

held in local temples, one day in the provincial capital and one day in a village.

"The villagers are not stupid, they know what they want," said Puong Sith,

president of Vigilance and main organizer of the public meetings.

"Publicize the Constitution! Don't let them do everything in secret like in

Pol Pot times!" exclaimed one villager. "We have seen many human rights

groups start up in our province, and they have been teaching us about our rights.

But we don't yet have our rights respected. Make sure that the constitution includes

respect for human rights," added a layman from a nearby temple.

"Women should have equal rights to men in the new Constitution," commented

a student. Thanking her and encouraging more women to speak up in the meeting, Nou

Sambo, one of the organizers from Ponleu Khmer, added that there were only 5 women

representatives out of 120 in the new Assembly.

"If we want to increase that figure it starts right here, with us first expressing

our opinions in public, like at this meeting. Aspects of our culture have encouraged

us to remain silent, so it takes practice."

Many participants also explained the problems of their daily lives to their representatives.

"The new government should provide medical care to the poor for free. Anywhere

we go now they take so much money. Who can afford to get sick?" commented one

villager. "And the same for the schools," added another.

Svay Rieng

By Moeun Chhean Nariddh

We can not recommend the furniture for the house that we want to buy unless we

have seen it. We don't know whether or not the house has enough doors or windows.

We may even need to remove some unwanted furniture."

This is the criticism of Nhem To, Commission chief of Svay Rieng town's Wat Prey

Chhlak about the secrecy that has accompanied the writing of the constitution.

Three members of Cambodia's Constituent Assembly met Buddhist monks, officials,

students, teachers and ordinary citizens in a meeting organized by Ponleu Khmer in

Svay Rieng. Nhem said that he preferred a republican form of government for Cambodia,

saying that several parties in the liberal democratic society will help keep an eye

on each other to make sure that there is no erroneous conduct.

''I want the constitution to be more widely disseminated to the people before it

is officially adopted,'' suggested 20 year old student Keo Leakata. He said he wished

to have the Sangkum Reastr Niyum of Samdech Euv, the regime he heard his parents

and other old people maintain was free from corruption, especially in the area of

education.With a shy look, Leakata explained that he had taken and passed three diploma

examinations in a row, but that for the first two years he failed the so-called chair

exam [admission assessment]. He said 60,000 riel helped him to survive this year's


Thirty-two year old farmer Touch Chansethy suggested the constitution include free

health care for vulnerable groups of people such as widows like herself, and strictly

define provisions on human rights to ensure that they are properly respected.

Keo Khan, a 60 year old lay man, prefers a parliamentary monarchy. He suggested the

government "invest more in agriculture, primarily by providing the farmers with

enough water and chemical fertilizers .'' He urged that the judiciary be really independent

and neutral.

"If there is no king, religion and culture will be in danger,'' said 60 year

old Somon, who wanted the reintroduction of the old Sangkum Reastr Niyum's Constitution.

Living a farmer's life, she wanted the government to help rescue her rice fields

which are threatened by lack of rainfall and reduced fertility.

A student of the faculty of literature, wanted the Vietnamese government to also

think about the destiny of their people in Cambodia by agreeing to accept them back,

adding that '' if they want to come into Cambodia, it must be through laws.''

The deputy head of the Bavith junior high school proposed a public, parliamentary

regime with liberal democracy. He wanted the government to care for the teachers'

wages and abolish admissions payment for the junior high school as well as other

lower classes. The school deputy head also wished the Assembly would set up small

offices in different provinces where people can file their complaints. He suggested

that private ownership be clearly defined in the constitution.

Kem Sokha, one of the Assembly members who paid this Ponleu Khmer organized visit

to Svay Rieng, said he would put forward all the people's requests to the Assembly

once he returned to the capital.

"Good constitutions are in conformity with the people's aspirations'', stressed

Srey Mondol, another visiting Assembly member. He said "differing opinions would

make a good constitution."

Prey Veng

By John C. Brown

"I want you all to remember my face . I remember before that if you expressed

your opinion like this you would disappear. Please remember my face so that you can

find me if I disappear."

A resident of Prey Veng reminded his neighbors of the historical nature of the meeting

in which they were engaged. Under the sponsorship of Ponleu Khmer, members of the

Assembly were asking the people to give advice on the constitution. It is likely

that meetings like this have never before been held in Cambodia.

But the most immediate and obvious topic was the fact that no one knew what was in

the constitution.

The governor of Prey Veng said that even he ignorant about the contents of the Constitution.

He said that "many people have come to me to ask me about the constitution,

I must tell them that I do not know. I have been the Governor of this Province for

seven years and they tell me nothing."

The governor said that the people do not really want a return of a Monarchy. He said

that most were "un-educated and illiterate". They think that they want

a king again, but those who are trying to return the monarchy are "trying to

take all the political power in Cambodia."

A CPP Assemblyman told those meeting in Prey Veng little more than was already known

in Phnom Penh about the results of the elections, the process of the drafting of

the Constitution and the choices Sihanouk would be faced with. The CPP representative

told the people that "before the constitution could be revealed to the Cambodian

people, it must be approved, because many small problems have to be worked out."

"But," he said, "If anyone has a suggestion about the constitution,"

he promised "to take the suggestion to the Constituent Assembly. Even if no

one knows what is in the constitution, they can still give their ideas and their


A man stood up and gave a very emotional speech in which he said that Sihanouk has

said that he will not "wear the crown anymore", but asked that the country

be returned to a monarchy. He said that it would depend on the assembly to do this,

but that the voting should be secret. "If the voting is open [not secret], everyone

will raise their hand." He said further that if Sihanouk has agreed already,

then this meeting is useless, no one will dare oppose him."

Of the more than 200 persons attending the meeting, 60 were soldiers. One got up

and asked the soldiers be allowed to vote, and to run for office.

"Soldiers are citizens, citizens have this right, I should have this right."

In a very emotional speech a woman said that she did not want robbers and citizens

to have the same rights, she said that "murderers are released from prison to

kill again." She further asked that the constitution not allow a man to have

more than one wife.

Another resident of Prey Veng said, "I am very happy that you have a meeting

so I can give my ideas. I want a republic like the United States so that we can speak

freely. If we have many political parties, maybe my son can be the President."

He finished, by saying, "Eveyone wants happiness, they don't like sadness. The

government should increase happiness and reduce sadness."


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