In the National Assembly, one committee of just 12 people has the power to decide what legislation gets through to the floor of parliament and what gets buried.
In short, if a party controls the committee, it can control the agenda of the parliament.
So not surprisingly, as negotiations remain stalled on forming a new government, both Funcinpec and the CPP are haggling for control of this influential body: the permanent committee of the National Assembly.
“It is normal that you want to get a majority on this committee,” CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday.
The committee consists of the president and two vice presidents of the parliament, and the chairmen of the nine parliamentary commissions from Interior to Education to Human Rights.
“It determines which specific commission will review the legislation submitted by the government or proposed by an MP. It not only sets the agenda but decides when the full Assembly will meet,” said Ira Dassa, who served as a legal adviser to the National Assembly during part of the parliament’s first term.
Decisions in the committee require a majority vote, he added.
“The key number is seven,” he said. “It has to be a majority of the total number of members. All sides will want it. History bears out that once it’s on the agenda it’s a done deal.”
Ahmad Yahya, a Funcinpec member of parliament, can testify to that. He served on the permanent committee during the last session as chairman of the commission of Public Works and Transport.
With a majority vote in this key committee, Funcinpec and the then-BLDP were able to block some laws and rush through others.
A vote in the permanent committee was enough to put on the agenda the expulsion of Sam Rainsy from Funcinpec at a moment when the dissident had fallen out of favor with the party leadership. In contrast, when Funcinpec Interior co-Minister You Hockry was involved in a court case, the permanent committee blocked a request for the minister to lose his immunity, Ahmad Yahya said.
“We had a majority,” he said. “The CPP was frustrated.”
In the last Assembly session Funcinpec and the CPP each led four committees, with the BLDP, now the Son Sann Party, heading the ninth. The Assembly president, Chea Sim, was CPP, with Loy Sim Chheang (Funcinpec) and Son Soubert (BLDP) as deputies.
“[This time] we would want five out of the nine chairs of commissions,” the CPP’s Khieu Kanharith said.
The CPP spokesman refused to comment on the Assembly president and the two vice-presidents. Over the weekend, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested a co-presidency of the Assembly. Funcinpec officials have dismissed that idea. They insist the presidency should be awarded to them.
The Sam Rainsy Party is insisting it has some representation on the committee, demanding one vice-presidency and the chairmanship of one committee.
“It is a very reasonable request,” said Om Bunlong of the Sam Rainsy negotiating team. He claimed the CPP was against his party having seats on the permanent committee, but Khieu Kanharith said Tuesday the CPP would consider such a request.