NGOs Debate Pros and Cons of New Senate

Most participants at an NGO-led roundtable discussion at the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana on Wed­nesday agreed CPP Pres­ident Chea Sim had to be placed in some post somewhere.

The question, however, was where.

While the National Assembly is reviewing a constitutional amendment draft to create a Senate for Chea Sim to lead, the proposal has been controversial.

The NGOs debated the issue Wednesday without top government officials who were slated to discuss the plan. Justice Minister Uk Vithun, National Assembly Se­cond Deputy Chem Snguon and opposition leader Sam Rainsy were invited but did not attend.

Some participants in the roundtable continued to express disapproval of the Senate as an undemocratic institution.

“It will just set up another place for power sharing,” said Dy Rasy, a representative from the NGO Entarak Tevy.

Since a Nov 12-13 CPP-Fun­cinpec summit when creation of an upper house of parliament was agreed on as a compromise to set up the new coalition government, NGOs have been criticizing Sen­ate negotiations as an issue isolated from the Cambodian voters.

Son Chhay, a parliamentarian from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, recommended Wednesday that the government hold a referendum about amending the Constitution. The government should ask the Cambodian people’s opinion and should not hurry to create a Senate, he said.

Other participants brought up alternatives to the Senate proposal, such as a State Council or Roy­al Council with eight or nine mem­bers, which would cost less than a 61-member Senate.

A sense of realpolitik prevailed among those government officials who did attend the roundtable discussion. For them, consideration of stability was the greatest concern.

Sok Hach, an economic adviser at the Finance Ministry, said Cambodia’s economic development depends on the political stability that would arise from the development of the Senate.

“If the political situation is stable, economic growth will be about 6 to 7 percent. But in reality, the growth rate is zero be­cause of internal political crisis and stability,” he said.

“We can save about $2 million [if the government doesn’t create a Senate]. But if we do not create a Senate, we face political instability and we will lose a hundred times more money.”


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