NGOs Want New Assembly Rules Rescinded

Several nongovernmental groups on Thursday said a series of restrictive new rules issued by National Assembly President Heng Samrin last week violated the Constitution and the legislature’s internal rules, and called on the ruling party stalwart to rescind the order.

In a circular dated September 12, Mr. Samrin gave himself broad new powers to limit and restrict access to the National Assembly by anyone who is not a lawmaker. The circular said Mr. Samrin would have to approve any invitation a lawmaker extended to a member of the public to enter the Assembly compound, that members of the public could not give testimony to the Assembly’s 10 expert commissions or even sit in and listen, and that the commissions needed unspecified “agreement” before calling in a government minister.

The new rules came just as the opposition CNRP assumed unprecedented leverage in the Assembly, including the chairmanship of half its 10 commissions, and vowed to use their new powers to call government ministers to account and review a long list of controversial laws.

In a joint statement, 13 NGOs called on Thursday for the circular to be withdrawn.

“Some of the commissions led by the opposition party are working to conduct public meetings or hearings and debates, while the [Assembly] president from the ruling party and the National Assembly secretariat seem to be seeking to control the commissions by issuing the circular,” the statement says.

“Civil society organizations demand that the executive institution should pay more attention   to the principles of democracy, transparency and effectiveness of the National Assembly by dissolving the circular.”

At a press conference in Phnom Penh, the NGOs said the circular would violate provisions of the Assembly’s internal rules and accused Mr. Samrin of seeking to overstep the powers those rules, and even the Constitution, give him.

“There is no article or regulation giving power to the president of the parliament to issue circulars or authentic orders,” said Koul Panha, who heads the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

“Article 87 of the Constitution states that the president of the parliament must be responsible for the internal rules,” he said.

“It doesn’t allow him to issue a circular; it means he is permitted to ensure the implementation of the parliament’s internal rules only.”

Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the circular also violated the spirit of a deal the CPP and CNRP struck in July—to end the opposition’s months-long boycott of parliament in protest over last year’s disputed national election—that included a joint renegotiation of the Assembly’s internal rules.

“It’s putting the cart before the cow,” he said. “The circular disposes of all the [lawmakers’] rights before any discussion.”

Members of Mr. Samrin’s cabinet could not be reached. CPP lawmaker and Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun declined to comment.

At a press conference late last month to address the criticism of the circular, Mr. Vun insisted that the Constitution and the Assembly’s internal rules both gave the Assembly president the authority to issue the circular.

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