Report Raises Lack of Debate in Mute National Assembly

There was almost no meaningful debate in the National Assembly in the first half of this year despite its lawmakers passing legislation creating a new electoral commission and regulating NGOs in the country, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel) said Thursday.

In a report launched at its office in Phnom Penh, the election-monitoring body analyzed speeches given in debates on three laws—creating the new National Election Committee (NEC), the NGO law, and the approval of the 2013 spending—and found the Assembly to be mostly mute.

“As a general observation, the majority of lawmakers did not take part in debate and remained quiet,” the report says.

“CNRP lawmaker Sam Rainsy was the only one who made a speech during the parliamentary session on the NEC law,” it says. “The content of the speech focused only on praising the efforts of the bipartisan team proposing the law and, more interestingly, urging other lawmakers not to comment further on the law.”

The report notes that of the parliament’s 123 lawmakers, only 27—16 from the CPP and 11 from the CNRP—ever rose to speak in the debates on the three laws, with 80.5 percent of the content of their speeches deemed “neutral.”

Sin Tithseiha, a monitoring officer with Comfrel who led the team that compiled the report, said the lack of robust discussion on proposed laws was a problem.

“When a law is adopted with a number of ambiguously defined terms and without a proper discussion and debate in the parliamentary sessions, it will lead to controversial interpretations and confrontations later,” he said.

Comfrel’s report also looked into trips made by lawmakers to their constituencies around the country, finding that 70 of the 123 lawmakers made such trips in the first six months of the year—38 from the CPP and 32 from the CNRP.

Those 70 lawmakers were involved in 612 visits, of which the 32 CNRP lawmakers took part in 527. The report said about 62 percent of the trips were made for inauguration ceremonies, 14 percent were to strengthen grassroots activism and 5 percent were for public forums or inspections.

National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun could not be reached Thursday.

However, CPP spokesman and lawmaker Suos Yara said Comfrel failed to see that the lack of debate in parliament did not reflect the effectiveness of the National Assembly.

“They are not in a position to evaluate parliamentarians since the lawmakers are democratically elected by the people,” he said.

“Every member…has equal rights to express their opinions. Whether the members decide to boycott, join, speak or not speak is their decision,” he added.

“In case the defending team’s presentation is convincing and clearly presents the law, it’s enough, and there is no need for further debate.”

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann could not be reached for comment.

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