Opposition lawmakers, led by Sam Rainsy, criticized the government in the National Assembly for poor economic performance and failing to deal with poverty.
That’s nothing new. What was new was a procedure that allowed government officials to defend themselves.
Opposition politicians had developed the skill of standing up and launching their complaints near the end of the session, thereby ensuring they were the last voices heard.
But National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh issued a directive last week that a rebuttal must be allowed from a representative of whichever party was attacked, be it CPP, Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party.
On Thursday, four CPP and Funcinpec lawmakers including Minister of Finance Keat Chhon answered Sam Rainsy’s criticism. Keat Chhon said the government had reached economic goals. Minister of Defense Tea Banh said his ministry’s 2001 budget was being reduced too much.
Prince Ranariddh said spirited activity by opposition lawmakers was a sign of healthy democracy-building in the Assembly.
He criticized the recent opposition walkouts leading to lack of quorums. “They should not walk out like that,” he said. “This is intentionally giving our parliament problems in taking votes. If they are not happy, they don’t have to vote. That is enough. But when they leave no quorum, that’s not fair to democracy.”
He said he has ordered that the assembly continue to meet during a walkout, and pointed out that legislative meetings go on in the US even if only two or three legislators are actually in attendance.
The prince said he did not want to comment on the recent state TV and radio blackout of a National Assembly speech by Sam Rainsy that criticized the government. “But from now on, there will be no [speeches] missing.”