King: Cambodian Democracy Is in Trouble

The state of democracy in Cambodia remains troubled, King Norodom Sihanouk said Tuesday on the anniversary of last year’s July 27 national election, the same day that the CPP and Funcinpec announced the Sam Rainsy Party would be excluded from all National Assembly commissions, virtually stripping it of power within the parliament.

Writing from his palace in North Korea, King Sihanouk expressed regret over a failed Nov 5 agreement that he had brokered between the three main parties during the post-election deadlock.

Instead, in the outcome of the deadlock, King Sihanouk wrote, “our Constitution and our liberal Democracy have been ‘disfigured’” by a controversial addition to the constitution that was pushed through by the CPP and Funcinpec. The measure allowed the Assembly to ratify the new government earlier this month, despite objections from observers and opposition officials that it violated Constitutional protocol.

Initially offered prominent government and legislative roles in the Nov 5 agreement, the Sam Rainsy Party is now divided, King Sihanouk said. And the prime minister has accused it of forming an illegal armed force “destined to make war against” Hun Sen and the government, he said.

“Thus, our Country, our Na­tion, our Democracy (without speaking of our Monarchy which no longer exists but on paper) are ‘overwhelmed’ by a national division, an extremely serious political crisis, which will, in the days and months to come, worsen more,” the King wrote.

On Tuesday, the Assembly’s 12-member Permanent Commit­tee—formed exclusively of Fun­cinpec and CPP officials—an­nounced it had finalized the membership of the parliament’s nine com­missions, excluding Sam Rainsy Party members.

The commissions debate and examine all draft laws and are traditionally composed of all parties that hold parliamentary seats. The CPP has 73 seats, Funcinpec holds 26 and the Sam Rainsy Party has 24.

But, according to acting Assem­bly President Heng Samrin, “The Sam Rainsy Party cannot take any membership positions in the commissions because the protocol doesn’t say anything about this. There are only two parties,” he said Tuesday.

Without any members in the commissions, the Sam Rainsy Party may still be able to propose bills to the Assembly, but will hold no power to change draft laws.

The opposition party also has no positions in the new government.

Heng Samrin, who is temporarily heading the Assembly in place of Prince Norodom Ranariddh while the prince is in Singapore, said the Assembly will formally appoint the commissions when it holds its next session next week.

Assembly officials did not say when Prince Ranariddh will return.

Under the Permanent Commit­tee’s plan, the CPP will chair five commissions and Funcinpec will chair four, said Chan Ven, deputy secretary-general for the Assem­bly.

Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang lambasted the plan Tuesday, calling it a “mockery of the principle of democracy.”

“Doing this violates the principle of democracy and it gets worse and worse,” he said. But added the party will “be active in parliamentary work,” regardless of its exclusion from the commissions.

Despite a nearly yearlong delay in forming the new government following the July 2003 election, Heng Samrin said there is no plan to extend the new government’s mandate to make up for the past year. The next election is scheduled for 2008.

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