Assembly’s Backlog of Laws Stunts Progress

As the one-year anniversary of the National Assembly’s last working session approaches, a back log of legislation continues to wait for parliament’s consideration.

The Assembly last had a quorum in late May 2003, before lawmakers stopped attending parliament in favor of visiting their constituents in preparation for the July national election.

A draft of a long-awaited do­mestic violence law was one of the last pieces of legislation scheduled for debate at the As­sem­bly.

Nearly 12 months later, that draft law, as well as ratification of a UN-supported Khmer Rouge tribunal and membership in the World Trade Organization, re­main stalled while political leaders squabble over the formation of a new government and leadership of the Assembly.

“We have lost a lot of time to develop the country,” Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng said Wed­nesday. “We have tried our best to work because it is our responsibility, but we need the National Assembly’s approval.”

In the nine months since the July election, CPP officials maintained they can continue to run the current government normally, while Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party officials said there has been no rush to create a new government that doesn’t satisfy “the interests of the country.”

But in recent weeks, some politicians agreed that the Assem­bly should be established quickly.

“We can be patient for forming a new government. But parliament must function to create checks and balances,” Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said earlier this month.

Since the deadlock, he said, complaints of government corruption and rights abuses have increased. But without a working parliament, he said, “We don’t know what to do.”

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanha­rith dismissed the opposition’s criticisms, though he, too, said the Assembly should begin working soon.

The trouble is, he said, “It seems we still have people who continue to block the situation.”

Funcinpec Minister of Wo­men’s and Veterans’ Affairs Mu Sochua said she is confident that the domestic violence draft law will eventually be passed once the Assembly is in session.

But, she said, the delay has hampered the ministry’s ability to address the problems that the draft is meant to target.

“The country is functioning normally, but it doesn’t mean it is functioning at full speed,” she said earlier this month.

Funcinpec’s spokesman Kassie Neou declined to comment on the delay of the Assembly.

Some officials, however, said they are happy with the course of their political maneuverings.

“Although we are facing a political deadlock, we are happy be­cause we will have a good, new government with a good national platform,” Eng Chhay Eang, Sam Rainsy Party’s secretary-general, said Wednesday.

A prolonged impasse could mean that once formed, the new government may be able to put off the next national election so it can carry out an entire five-year mandate, said Tep Nitha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee.

“After the government is formed, the parties in the government can discuss whether they want to extend [the government mandate] or not,” he said Wednesday, adding that the Consti­tution defines a government term as five years.

Om Yentieng, however, said the CPP has no plans to postpone the scheduled 2008 election.

“We don’t want to be too ambitious,” he said Wednesday. “We will encourage the government to be formed quickly.”

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