Election of Senators Will Be Postponed

King Norodom Sihanouk has agreed to a request from Senate leaders to postpone this year’s constitutionally mandated Senate elections for one year, the King wrote in a letter to Senate Presi­dent Chea Sim.

“Related to your proposal, I agree to allow Samdech Presi­dent, deputy president and members of the permanent committees” of the Senate to prolong the current Senate’s mandate, stated the King’s letter, dated Jan 10.

The Senate’s Chief of Cabinet Chea Sorn confirmed that the King’s letter was official, thereby paving the way for Senate elections to be delayed until next year.

Senate First Vice President Prince Sisowath Chivon Monirak Sunday said senior senators had urged the King to approve the delay because they were unprepared to hold new elections due to the political deadlock.

The Senate’s five-year term is scheduled to end in March. The Senate was created following the 1998 general elections. Since then, the National Assembly has not passed legislation on how future Senate elections should be conducted.

And, Prince Chivon Monirak added, with the three parties continuing their more than five-month-long dispute, the delay in forming a new government and Assembly has complicated matters.

“Currently we don’t know when the National Assembly can work,” he said.

Over the past year, King Siha­nouk and legislative officials have mulled over how the next Senate should be chosen.

Last January, Assembly Presi­dent Prince Norodom Ranariddh proposed canceling this year’s Senate election and having the King appoint the 61-member body instead. Prince Ranariddh said the government was “financially unable to hold the election.”

The King, however, rejected Prince Ranariddh’s proposal, saying he would refuse to appoint senators who are not elected in a national vote.

If the deadlock is not resolved by the time the Senate’s mandate expires in March, the country could be left without a Senate, Prince Chivon Monirak said.

“We want both institutions to work accordingly,” he said.

Prince Chivon Monirak added that delaying the vote will not violate the Constitution if it has the approval of the King, as well as the Senate president, deputy presidents and the heads of the nine permanent committees. He said the decision was backed by all three parties.

Under the Constitution, the Senate’s mandate can be extended if it is “impossible to conduct an election,” and the decision is made by at least two-thirds of its members.

Once the year is over, a national senatorial election will be held, Prince Chivon Monirak said.

Koul Panha, director for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, on Sunday expressed concern over the decision to postpone the election, saying the political deadlock may not be resolved before the yearlong extension runs out.

“I am very concerned,” Koul Panha said. He added that the next Senate must be chosen by a national election, stressing it should also be reformed.

“Senate members have re­ceived a lot for their salaries but their work is not the same value as their salaries,” he said.

He said senators currently only review the decisions of the Assembly.

Many politicians and analysts have criticized the legislative body for its lack of power.

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