Assembly Gives Up Until After New Year

After a fourth day of failing to gain a quorum, acting National Assembly President Loy Sim Chheang gave up Tuesday and canceled the parliament’s sessions through Khmer New Year.

The Assembly will meet again April 20, he said.

“We have this quorum problem over and over again. We will just have to relax until April 20 and spend our time enjoying the new year,” Loy Sim Chheang said.

“I am very sorry about the lack of quorum because we still have many laws left to pass and are running out of time,” he added.

The repeated failure of the Assembly to meet has held up key legislation several times. The latest delay will hold up formation of the Constitutional Council—a long-awaited panel that is crucial to upcoming elections—because the Assembly must name three members to the council.

Fed up by persistent delays, Assembly Secretary-General Than Sina called Tuesday for a change in the rules that require 70 percent of the 120 members be present to convene a session.

“We are going to have to look at making changes next term,” he said. “Other countries do not do it this way.”

“If we don’t change, a political party will have to win 84 seats in the Assembly just to convene a meeting,” he said.

Although carelessly absent lawmakers are generally blamed for keeping the parliament from meet­ing, the quorum rule has also been used by minority factions to block measures they are against but are bound to lose in a vote. Only 37 absentees are needed to prevent the Assembly from meeting.

The Assembly was paralyzed for nearly three months last year while factions boycotted scheduled sessions during the squabble over Funcinpec’s intention to expel a group of “renegade” lawmakers who rejected then-first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s leadership.

The Assembly began to meet again after the prince was ousted in the July 5-6 fighting. But the quorum problem was then exa­cerbated by the absence of up to 24 lawmakers who fled the country for self-imposed exile. Most have since returned to work.

But even with the self-exiles’ return, the “quorum disease,” as Than Sina calls it, persists. On Tuesday, only 69 of the parliament’s 120 members came to work—far short of the 84 needed.

Early celebrations of next week’s Khmer New Year holiday are a prime suspect for making lawmakers play hooky.

But the item on the agenda, an amendment aimed at ensuring ballot secrecy in the July 26 elections, has caused some to suspect the absenteeism may be strategic.

“It seems to me that some people don’t want to discuss the issue of counting ballots at the district level,” said Ahmad Yahya, one of the 14 opposition lawmakers who proposed the amendment.

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