Minister of Justice Defends Senate Proposal

Justice Minister Uk Vithun on Monday countered criticism of a draft law to create an upper house of parliament, the Senate, saying the new body could serve an important role.

“It’s not useless. It’s important,” said Uk Vithun, who helped write the draft law.

Citing the previous existence of a parliamentary upper house, the King’s High Council, during the 1950s and 1960s, Uk Vithun insisted Monday that the Senate had potential to be a “chamber for reflection” on laws.

He spoke on the day that a group of NGOs distributed a counterproposal to the Senate draft law. Critics have said creation of an upper house in addition to the 122-member National Assembly is unnecessary, will be expensive and was agreed upon in an undemocratic process.

The Senate draft law is a key part of a CPP-Funcinpec compromise in a Nov 12-13 summit that broke more than three months of  post-election deadlock and al­lowed a coalition government to be formed.

The creation of a Senate, to be headed by CPP President Chea Sim, solved the problem of who should get the National Assem­bly’s presidency.

Funcinpec sought the post for its leader, Prince No­rodom Rana­riddh, but that would have left Chea Sim, president of the last As­sembly, without a high-level post.

The Senate draft law is currently under review by the As­sem­bly’s Legislative Commis­sion.

The Sam Rainsy Party issued a statement Monday that the party has decided to support the NGOs’ counterproposal, which would scrap the Senate and instead make Chea Sim president of an expanded Consti­tutional Council.

“While it is unfortunate that back-room deals still predominate in Cambodian political culture, at least the proposal would cost far less than a superfluous new Senate—approaching $1 million per year in salaries alone—and would not require such drastic changes to the Constitution,” the statement said.

Countering claims by NGOs that the process of creating a Senate was undemocratic, Uk Vithun said Monday that the draft legislation was in the hands of Cambodia’s elected lawmakers.

“If they ask me to write up a new Senate, I do it. If they ask me to write up a new Constitutional Council, I will do it,” Uk Vithun said.


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