National Assembly Backs Constitution Amendments

National Assembly President Heng Samrin. Photo from National Assembly of Cambodia.

PHNOM PENH – The National Assembly has approved draft amendments to the Constitution despite opposition by political parties and civil society groups.

The amendments were passed on July 28 by 105 out of 106 votes cast in a session chaired by National Assembly President Heng Samrin with the participation of  Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The articles being amended are divided into two groups. The first group is composed of six articles (19, 89, 98, 102, 119 and 125) from the original 1993 Constitution. The two other articles being amended are articles 3 and 4 of the Additional Constitutional Law, an appendix to the Constitution.

The draft bill will be sent to the Senate and to the Constitutional Council, before receiving the final approval of King Sihamoni.

Civil society and political opposition

Just over 100 civil society groups urged the National Assembly to consider suspending approval of the government-proposed amendment.

“Non-governmental organizations, unions, federations, unions, associations, and communities believe that the amendment under these circumstances could have a detrimental effect on the stability of the state power and executive power, the respect for the rights and freedoms of Cambodian citizens enshrined in the Constitution,” they said in a joint statement on July 27.

They said the amendments do not reflect the will of the people and affect the liberal, multi-party democracy in the parliamentary system.

Earlier this month, the cabinet approved the draft constitution, surprising the public. On July 19, the President of the National Assembly agreed to accept the draft law.

The civil society statement said the amendment without public participation affects the spirit of national unity and solidarity while  there was still a political rift in the country.

When the power of the National Assembly decreases, it would affect the trust in the legal system, and hinder economic development, while the people and the whole nation become victims.

“We believe that although our institution does not have the mandate to represent the will of the people like political parties, our institution aims to see a strong constitution in the country, which reflect the will of the people,” the statement said.

On July 21, four political parties submitted a joint petition to the National Assembly asking it to reject the draft. The parties fear that parliamentary power would be weakened.

The amendments remove the post-election decision-making power to propose the formation of a government from the President of the National Assembly to the political party with most seats. In this way, the power of the National Assembly is overlooked when it comes to creating the government.

Another amendment raises the number of National Assembly members who can file a petition to condemn the government from 30 to 42.

In addition, the other points that will be changed are all focused on increasing the power and authority of the party with most seats in the National Assembly.

However, Justice Minister Keut Rith said on July 14 that amendments were to deal with shortcomings in the Constitution in the national interests without affecting the foundations of democracy and monarchy.

The minister later described as baseless claims that the amendments affected democracy, pluralism of parties, the constitutional monarchy and reduced the power of the National Assembly.

Sam Inn, Secretary-General of Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), said that if the party obtained enough seats in the National Assembly to amend the Constitution, he would return the full power to the National Assembly in terms of establishing the government.

Inn said his party would gather opinions with public participation before making any amendment to the important laws.

“The Constitution is for the whole nation, not only for the Cambodian People’s Party,” he said on July 26.

The Constitution has been amended nine times before.

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