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
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
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.
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
"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."
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 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."