King Norodom Sihanouk gave the creation of the Senate a push forward on Tuesday, while pro-democracy activists continued to express concern over the proposed body’s makeup and undefined functions.
The King in a Tuesday letter to Funcinpec and CPP leaders said he would like to appoint only two members of the Senate, proposed as an upper house of parliament last week as part of a deal to break months of CPP-Funcinpec political stalemate.
“I would like to request you to follow a model of the first Kingdom where the King appoints only two members of the Senate and the rest [are] chosen by, based on their agreement, the government and the National Assembly,” the monarch wrote.
The parties had tentatively suggested that the Senate hold about half the number of seats as the 122-member National Assembly, the nation’s sole law-making body for the past five years.
Furthermore, the proposed Senate’s powers have yet to be determined. Debate lasting months is expected by some analysts.
Members of a CPP-Funcinpec working group attempting to hammer out the details of a Senate have said they must consult the King before they decide how to appoint members to the Senate.
The proposed Senate has elicited concern from critics on a number of fronts, including those opposing altering the Constitution and against creating a legislative body without popular vote.
Pro-democracy activists have said the body’s credibility will lay in its ability to remain neutral.
“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and to reflect the will of the people, no alteration should be made without extensive democratic debate and reflection,” a Tuesday statement signed by 11 NGO officials and democracy activists said.
“You cannot simply appoint and nominate members of the Senate,” said Thun Saray, president of the local human rights group, Adhoc, and a signatory to the Tuesday NGO statement. “The Senate doesn’t represent at all the opinion of the people.”
The statement also suggested there should be a split between the executive and legislative branches and that public hearings on the proposed Senate be held.
Funcinpec’s agreement earlier this month to create the CPP-proposed Senate helped to end months of political deadlock following July’s elections. The CPP won 64 of the Assembly’s 122 seats, but not enough to rule without a coalition partner.
The Senate proposal effectively will keep acting-head-of-state powers in the hands of CPP President Chea Sim while meeting Funcinpec’s demand that its leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, be the National Assembly president.
The 1993 Constitution decrees that the Assembly president hold power as the head of state when the King is not in the country.
The creation of the Senate will require a constitutional amendment and possibly alter up to 30 articles of the Constitution, a working group participant has said.