Ranariddh: Senate Vote May Be Suspended

National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said on Thursday that he supports a proposed constitutional amendment to cancel Senate elections, which had been scheduled for 2004.

Prince Ranariddh said he supports the CPP proposal to have King Norodom Sihanouk appoint senators to a second term, rather than to have voters chose members to the 61-member body. He said he had recently consulted with Senate President Chea Sim and UN Development Program officials on the matter.

“We are financially unable to hold the election,” the prince said. “Funcinpec has agreed because [the election] would cost a lot of money.”

The Senate first convened in March 1999. All senators were appointed by the King to five-year terms.

Senate Secretary-General and CPP member Um Sarith also said on Thursday that senators should be appointed to the next term because of the government’s shortage of funds. “People [in Cambodia] are living in poverty,” he said.

Um Sarith said the government spent a lot of money on the commune council and national elections held between 1998 and 2002.

The senator said it would be difficult to find donors who could contribute enough money to hold the elections. He is concerned the country would have to borrow money from foreign donors, expanding Cambodia’s already daunting deficit.

“Political parties also are facing a [deficit] of money,” Um Sarith said.

Sam Rainsy Party Secretary General Eng Chhay Eang said the government should be dissolved if it cannot find the funds to hold elections.

“If there is no election to choose a Senate, it is contrary to democracy,” Eng Chhay Eang said. “The Senate today has no power, but if they [senators] are voted on by the people, they will have the power to protect the people.”

Um Sarith mentioned that England and Canada do not hold senatorial elections. Although Thailand formed its Senate in the 1940s, elections were not held until 2002, he added.

Eng Chhay Eang did not accept Um Sarith’s defense. “We should not learn and follow Thailand. We have to look ahead and not walk backwards,” Eng Chhay Eang said.

CPP Senator Uk Bun Chhoeun was not convinced that canceling the elections would mar Cambodia’s democracy. “We will keep the funds for the election and use them to assist people. It does not affect democracy.”

Prince Ranariddh suggested that the proposal for a constitutional amendment be finalized before the Assembly goes on vacation at the end of this month.


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