Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP and opposition leader Sam Rainsy issued separate statements on Monday in support of a proposal to decrease the number of National Assembly members needed to form a government.
Sam Rainsy issued a letter to Hun Sen and to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of Funcinpec and the Assembly, urging them to consider changing the requisite number of votes from two-thirds of parliamentarians to half of the Assembly members plus one.
“Based on the spirit of compromise and national reconciliation that aims to secure political stability in Cambodia, to offer mutual confidence and to avoid the political deadlock…Sam Rainsy Party requests Prince [Ranariddh] and Samdech Prime Minister see to the possibility of amending Article 90 of the Constitution,” Sam Rainsy wrote in the letter.
A CPP statement broadcast on state-run TVK “welcomed” Sam Rainsy’s request, but noted that the implementation might not be simple, as other articles of the Constitution would have to be amended concurrently.
“The initiative to do the amendment will not impact the effectiveness of the government’s work or the good cooperation between CPP and Funcinpec party,” the CPP statement continued.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith stressed that the proposal was Sam Rainsy’s and denied that plans for the amendment were made in Sunday’s “family meeting” between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen.
The CPP’s minority coalition partner, Funcinpec, did not immediately join the CPP in welcoming the proposal, which some observers said could squeeze the prince’s party out the government.
Funcinpec spokesman Chea Chanboribo declined to explain Funcinpec’s stance on the possible amendment, but suggested that Sam Rainsy was out of his depth.
“Sam Rainsy now is just like a downed boxer, whom the referee already counted [out]. He woke up, and he didn’t know what to do,” Chea Chanboribo said.
“So what Sam Rainsy tries to do every day is just to confuse his party members that he tries to save them,” he said.
But political observers called the proposal—which Sam Rainsy has made in past election periods—a plan that could free Cambodian politics from the long stalemates and uneasy coalitions that have resulted from the country’s three previous elections.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections Director Koul Panha said that such a policy, if crafted and implemented properly, could clarify the role of the opposition and prevent the bloated bureaucracy that results from political compromises.
“It should increase accountability of the government and strengthen the opposition,” Koul Panha said.
He explained that the two-thirds rule was created with an eye toward stability by way of compromise among parties, but the government now needs to look beyond stability to democratization.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights spokesman Ou Virak said the amendment could have a more drastic result: undermining Funcinpec, which he said was a party already on the decline.
“I would guess that Sam Rainsy Party is looking for the creation of a two-party state after the next election,” Ou Virak said.
“There is growing dissatisfaction with the coalition government from CPP members…. It could be that the prime minister is looking for a way out of the coalition with the Funcinpec party,” he said.
But opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said Funcinpec’s assent would be crucial to such an amendment. The proposal was not political, but rather an effort to strengthen parliament and keep the government performing effectively, he said.
“We need a strong parliament—a strong parliament is able to discipline members of the government,” Son Chhay said. “This could create a more challenging environment: if every party is in government by itself and must accept full responsibility.”