After it failed to reach quorum for the second time this week, the National Assembly on Thursday was forced to put all future sessions on hold until more parliamentarians show up for work.
Eighty-three of the Assembly’s 123 lawmakers turned up for Thursday’s meeting, just short of the quorum of 87 lawmakers required to pass laws.
Monh Saphann, chairman of the Assembly’s defense and interior commission, said that several lawmakers did not show up because they are abroad, while others are ill. And all of the Sam Rainsy Party’s 24 lawmakers have been boycotting the meetings since the Assembly voted to strip three of the party’s lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity in February.
According to the Center for Social Development, however, the lack of work done at the Assembly is becoming a trend.
Heal Sok Sary, head of the center’s parliament and election unit, reported that between December 2003 and December 2004, the Assembly successfully met only 18 times.
“It was a sharp decline,” he said. “Usually [in previous years], it met up to 80 times per year.”
So far this year, the Assembly has scheduled 17 sessions but failed to meet quorum for five of those sessions. Yet lawmakers earn about $2,000 per month, regardless of how often they meet.
“As the data speaks, we see such [a] gradual decline of parliamentary work. And the debate is much less democratic and active,” he said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that as the workload of Assembly parliamentarians lessens, the power of the government has increased.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay agreed.
“The situation now is like it was in the ‘80s when the Assembly was not active and it just followed the government. And the government also controls the court. This is worrisome,” he said.
Monh Saphann defended the Assembly, saying “those who look at the Assembly from the outside, they said it does not work.”
However, he said, “we have been so busy inside with internal meetings.”