Reining In Wandering Debate Vexes NA: Comfrel

National Assembly President Heng Samrin and First Vice Pres­ident Nguon Nhel’s propensity to rein in lawmakers who wander off debate topics has sparked a greater number of verbal disputes on the Assembly floor, parliamentary observers say.

In its monthly Parliamentary Watch report for January, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections said that its monitors observed that when the chair silenced lawmakers for straying from a debate at hand, it prompted other lawmakers to condemn the individual that had originally wandered too far afield.

“Comfrel noticed that lawmakers continue to attack each other while paying less attention to the content of the draft law,” according to the report, which was re­leased Monday.

Heng Samrin said by telephone Tuesday that those guilty of straying from a topic were the SRP, who he claimed increased their comments on extraneous issues as a way to campaign for the upcoming national election.

“They talk again and again about topics such as logging, corruption, gas prices…no matter what law we are supposed to be debating,” he said. “They talk for votes.”

Comfrel Director Koul Panha disagreed, saying: “Talking off the point is nothing new and doesn’t increase in the lead up to an election.”

When Prince Norodom Ran­ariddh was president of the As­sembly, lawmakers were allowed to stray off topic, Koul Panha said, but the present restrictions are merely prompting the next speaker to verbally attack his meandering colleagues.

“The restrictions lead to remarkable verbal confrontations,” Comfrel chief monitor Mar Sophal said.

Heng Samrin disagreed with Comfrel’s assessment, saying that if the organization was saying that he was clamping down on off-topic lawmakers, then there logically should be fewer such speeches.

He added that he would continue to cut short impertinent re­marks and bring lawmakers back to the subject.

As an example, the Comfrel report cited a debate on a Jap­anese investment draft law on Jan 16. At that debate, SRP Pres­ident Sam Rainsy made several remarks about corruption driving away investors, prompting Nguon Nhel to ask Sam Rainsy to come back to the topic of the draft law. Immediately afterwards, CPP Finance Min­ister Keat Chhon attacked the SRP leader for his comments, saying that he could be sued if he wasn’t a lawmaker. That in turn was followed by an attack from CPP lawmaker Ho Naun, who accused Sam Rainsy of trying to drive away investors. Those remarks provoked a retort by SRP lawmaker Cheam Channy who said the CPP verbal attacks constituted a threat. And so on.

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