National Assembly Acting President Nguon Nhel on Wednesday ordered the country’s parliamentarians to refrain from speaking either English or French during debate, adding that those who have to do so must apologize first before switching to a foreign language.
Nguon Nhel was prompted to action after CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap spoke in Khmer and French and Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San switched between Khmer, French and English.
“For our national honor,” Nguon Nhel told the Assembly, “Khmer is our language. If you speak foreign languages you must apologize to the National Assembly first.”
“Villagers don’t understand English and French,” he added.
Khieu San said that he was forced to switch between languages during Wednesday’s Assembly debate on the country’s draft code of civil procedures because of the technical nature of the discussion.
“I won’t fight back because I respect the National Assembly’s acting president,” said Khieu San, adding that he had switched to English as he was trying to explain the term “covenant on civil and political rights” to the Assembly.
“I worked in a law firm in the United States. I will try to speak Khmer. I don’t insult the Khmer language, it is just terminology,” he said.
Abiding by the order, Finance Minister Keat Chhon took the floor and apologized to his colleagues and Nguon Nhel, warning that he was about to switch into English to explain the term “time-consuming.”
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Keo Remy said that some polyglot parliamentarians use Assembly sessions to strut their linguistic abilities.
“Some lawmakers want to show off that they speak foreign languages. People are sick of it,” Keo Remy said, adding that he, too, would try and remember to limit his language to Khmer.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that getting complex legal terminology right sometimes requires using foreign words, but that lawmakers should speak Khmer.