New Assembly Paves Way for Package Vote

With a show of hands, CPP and Funcinpec parliamentarians passed a controversial piece of legislation Thursday and paved the way for an end to the political deadlock in a National Assembly session boycotted by the opposition.

The unanimous vote by 96 attending Assembly members was a key step toward legalizing a “package vote,” the much-debated legal capstone to a third coalition government.

The session might also have signaled an end to the precarious Alliance of Democrats, with a top royalist official saying that Funcinpec will withdraw its offer of government positions to the Sam Rainsy Party, as the opposition leader pegged Funcinpec parliamentarians “cowards” for endorsing the package deal.

Funcinpec Deputy Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay said after the Assembly session that the opposition had forfeited its chance to join the next government.

“We have offered the Sam Rainsy Party many chances, many times, to join the government, but he will not join. What can we do?” he said.

The package vote measure, adopted as a seven-article addition to the Constitution, will go to the Senate on Monday, then to King Norodom Sihanouk or to Chea Sim, the acting head of state, for final approval. The vote to form a new government could be held as soon as late next week.

The measure effectively calls for the Assembly to elect the prime minister and parliament leadership in a single vote—a condition insisted upon by Prime Minister Hun Sen to prevent any last-minute betrayals by the CPP’s coalition partner.

Presiding over Thursday’s session, CPP parliamentarian Chea Soth said the proposed Constitu­tion­al articles will “ensure the government’s normal process.”

But the opposition, legal experts and critics have charged that the CPP and Funcinpec are steamrolling the Constitution and parliamentary procedure.

They say the measure contradicts protocol outlined in the Constitution that calls for two separate votes for the government and legislative positions and presents the predicament of altering the Con­stitution without a legislature formally in place.

The King appears to be of the same mind, announcing this week from self-exile in North Korea that he will abdicate the throne “in the near future.”

Critics said Thursday’s show-of-hands vote, which they claim was meant to cow into submission any opponents of the package vote, was also an apparent breach of parliamentary procedure using secret ballots.

In addition, the legislation forbids any debate in the parliament regarding a package vote.

“Should such violations of the Constitution be tolerated and repeated, the country risks sliding continuously toward dictatorship,” read a statement from the Cam­bodian Human Rights Action Com­mittee issued earlier this week.

Sam Rainsy was more blunt in his critique. At a news conference at his headquarters, surrounded by opposition parliamentarians boycotting the Assembly, he called CPP and Funcinpec parliamentarians “cowards” and said they had disrespected the King by endorsing a package vote.

“Funcinpec and the CPP parties’ leaders have cooperated to carry out a constitutional coup d’etat,” he said.

He declined to say whether the party will take government or Assem­bly posts offered by Funcin­pec, or whether the Alliance is dead. Sam Rainsy and Prince Ranariddh entered a loose partnership following the 1998 elections which also ended with a coalition government and the alliance’s demise.

The official line from royalist spokesman Kassie Neou was that the Alliance stands.

“The door is always open to welcome officials from the Sam Rainsy Party to join the government,” he said.

This was the Assembly’s first voting session in more than a year, and the first step in a power-sharing deal reached last month through back-channel talks by Hun Sen and Prince Rana­riddh.

The deal handed control of two former royalist ministries to the CPP and more than doubled the country’s Cabinet to accommodate position-seekers in both parties. Alliance leaders have pointed to the discussion of a government policy as a victory in its own right.

Aside from boycotting opposition lawmakers, three other elected parliamentarians—CPP President Chea Sim and royalists Princess Norodom Vacheara and Kek Vandy—did not attend Thursday’s session.

Chea Sim is acting head of state in the King’s absence and thus could not attend, said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.


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