Senate Discussion Postponed

The National Assembly has postponed today’s scheduled debate on a draft constitutional amendment to create a Senate, citing concerns the parliament could not muster a quorum.

Heng Samrin, the Assembly’s acting president, confirmed the delay after a meeting of the permanent committee he chaired Tuesday afternoon. No new date for the debate has been set.

“We are concerned about the lack of quorum because the parliament is now still on vacation. So that’s why we decided to cancel the meeting,” Heng Samrin said.

The senior CPP official noted that many lawmakers are out of the country or in the provinces and that the 81 parliamentarians needed to make quorum for a special session would be difficult to muster.

Heng Samrin said the Assembly will be in recess until a special session is convened, explaining that the lawmaking body technically wrapped up its first three-month session in late December.

“There may be less than 90 lawmakers to come to the meeting,” he said. “We can’t get the two-thirds majority needed to make any decision on this important amendment.”

An agreement in November to form a new upper house of parliament, the Senate, broke months of post-election deadlock and led to the formation of the new CPP-Funcinpec coalition government.

The creation of an upper house of parliament was initiated to give CPP President Chea Sim a senior post after Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh replaced him as the National Assembly president.

However, progress towards forming the Senate has been slow, and it is unclear whether the draft amendment expected to go soon before the Assembly has enough support to gain the two-thirds majority vote necessary to amend the Constitution.

Funcinpec and CPP representatives reportedly disagree on how much power the new government body should have and how its members should be chosen.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party has decried the creation of a potentially expensive and powerful new government body to keep political peace.

Opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay said that the decision to cancel the debate could be in response to his party’s request and also a sign of disagreement between Funcinpec and the CPP.

Heng Samrin, however, said the delay had nothing to do with reported discord in the coalition. “It is not influenced by these points. And our decision to cancel …came before the Sam Rainsy Party’s letter reached us.”

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