Senate Becomes Top Priority For Prince
Returning to Cambodia for the first time in nearly a month, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said top CPP leaders would not block the Senate candidacy of royalist general Nhiek Bun Chhay.
The prince, who spent a month mostly in France meeting French parliamentarians and teaching law classes, also defended plans to create the upper house of parliament. He said debate on a stalled constitutional amendment to form the Senate would begin “in a few days.”
Creation of the Senate, agreed on at the November CPP-Funcinpec summit to break the post-election deadlock and form a new government, is a top priority, Prince Ranariddh said.
“If it has not been set up, it is not because of Funcinpec unwillingness. I have raised the issue time and again,” he said at Pochentong Airport.
And when the institution is created, Funcinpec plans to nominate Nhiek Bun Chhay as one of its members, said the prince, who is also Funcinpec president.
“According to my discussion with Samdech Chea Sim, he will not oppose…Samdech Hun Sen will not oppose, either,” the prince announced to reporters at Pochentong Airport.
Nhiek Bun Chhay, reported earlier this week as seeking a position in the Senate, was the deputy chief of staff of the armed forces before the factional fighting of July 1997.
Barely escaping with his life, Nhiek Bun Chhay commanded a resistance army at the Thai border and was convicted in absentia by a military court in March 1998—along with Prince Ranariddh—on charges of colluding with the Khmer Rouge and plotting against the government.
The Funcinpec general was granted a royal amnesty as part of the CPP-Funcinpec summit that created the present government.
Since then, Nhiek Bun Chhay has been denied a role in the military under the new government. He has complained the army is refusing to reintegrate most of his resistance forces, according to Kyodo News Service.
But senior CPP military officials contacted Monday said they were not opposed to an arrangement where Nhiek Bun Chhay would receive a non-military government position.
“This issue is up to the Senate and up to the heads of the two parties. The military is not involved,” said Pol Saroeun, a CPP standing committee member newly appointed as the military’s Chief of Joint Staff.
Defense co-Minister Tea Banh said Nhiek Bun Chhay’s past military experience would not be an issue in his capacity as a senator.
But first, the National Assembly must agree on a proposal to form the Senate. Passing the necessary constitutional amendment is among Prince Ranariddh’s foremost concerns on his return, according to diplomats and government officials.
The Senate proposal has been stalled in the Assembly because of disagreements among parliamentarians as to the exact role and structure of the Senate.
Under the current draft, the Senate is to review Assembly legislation. Senators for the first term will be nominated by the three parties with Assembly seats, with the exception of four nominees by King Norodom Sihanouk.
The prince on Monday disputed claims by the Sam Rainsy Party and local NGOs that the Senate would be a financial drain, is an undemocratic institution, and was set up as a political deal to let the CPP and Funcinpec create the coalition government.
“We will have to set up the Senate to resolve political questions and because we need to have two houses, like democratic countries such as France, where one house is to check the work of the other one,” the prince said.
The prince wants the issue resolved before the Feb 25-26 donor meeting, according to one Asian diplomat.
Asean has also expressed its interest in seeing the institution formed before giving Cambodia full membership.
Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said last week that the prince has a lot of work cut out for him apart from the Senate amendment.
The Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian said that, among other issues, the prince’s leadership was necessary to clean up corruption in parliament, to clarify the rules and procedures of the Assembly, to decide who controls the parliamentary spending and to streamline parliamentary advisers.