With the odds against them, Cambodian NGOs today are sending parliamentarians a counterproposal to a National Assembly draft amendment to the Constitution that would create a new upper house of parliament.
The counterproposal calls the proposed Senate amendment “an unnecessary and undesirable upheaval in the Constitution.”
The document labels the Senate idea “an abuse of the mandate to govern that was given by the Cambodian people,” saying the idea of creating a new government body is a political deal and was not approved by voters in the July 26 elections.
Instead of an up-to-61-member Senate, the counterproposal outlines a compromise idea of enlarging the Constitutional Council to allow a top-level post for CPP President Chea Sim, president of the last Assembly.
Creating a new upper house of parliament headed by Chea Sim was the brainchild of the Nov 12-13 summit that broke months of post-election deadlock and led to the new CPP-Funcinpec coalition government.
The counterproposal, written Friday, was signed by members of 15 Cambodian NGOs over the weekend. Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said they could easily get more signatures.
However, Funcinpec parliamentarian Ahmad Yahya, one of the heads of the Assembly working group drafting the Senate amendment, said the counterproposal came too late.
“It doesn’t really matter what they say, the vote is gone already. We can’t start from point one again,” he said.
“Why didn’t they give their opinions before the summit?” Ahmad Yahya asked, though he admitted neither the CPP nor Funcinpec had consulted the NGOs before the negotiations.
CPP officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Constitutional Council has been left out of discussions about the Senate amendment, which is presently being reviewed by the Assembly’s Legislative Commission.
On Friday, King Norodom Sihanouk replied to a letter from Constitutional Council President Chan Sok that the Council “had a duty and obligation” to examine amendments to the Constitution.
Constitutional Council member Son Soubert said last week the Assembly has not approached the Council about the Senate.
“We don’t know. We don’t have the text [of the draft proposal],” he said. “I’m a bit puzzled…if they respect the Constitution, they must approach us.”
The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which did not participate in the Nov 12-13 summit, continued to oppose the Senate proposal. In a letter to the King last week, opposition leader Sam Rainsy called the Senate “a sinecure…for Chea Sim.” The party’s official stance toward the NGOs’ counterproposal remains unclear.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Hor Sopheap, when he heard about the counterproposal Saturday, said he supported it, but did not know about his colleagues. Another party official said there has been no consensus in the party and any statement would have to wait until party leader Sam Rainsy’s return from Laos on Wednesday.