Constitutional amendments headed to assembly

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng chairs the annual review of the Ministry of Land Management, where he first floated proposed amendments to the Constitution in December. Fresh News
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng chairs the annual review of the Ministry of Land Management, where he first floated proposed amendments to the Constitution in December. Fresh News

An Interior Ministry official yesterday said three constitutional amendments will be forwarded to the government next month, including two ill-defined articles promoting and protecting “national interests”, though he did little to clear up questions over the amendments’ scope and aim.

In December, Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced that seven amendments were being considered by a 12-person working group. One amendment would remove secretaries and undersecretaries of state from the prime minister’s cabinet, while also granting the prime minister broader latitude in appointing people to those positions. The others, he said, involved national interests and “foreign interference”, though he never clarified how those terms were defined, or who they targeted.

That ambiguity remained yesterday when Interior Ministry Secretary of State Sak Setha said the three proposed amendments would be forwarded for consideration next month.

“Prioritising of the country requires everyone to take the national interest as [their] main [interest], and . . . people must not do things that will impact the country and people’s interests,” he said of the amendments, adding that another previously floated suggestion for a lèse majesté article was not currently being considered.

Setha refused to clarify the wording of these amendments when pressed for details, saying citizens knew what was in the country’s interest. “You ask yourself, brother, on behalf of a citizen, and think about it before you ask this question,” he said.

Despite the lack of clarity, the two amendments appear to be aimed squarely at the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. In November, the Supreme Court summarily disbanded the party at the government’s behest over accusations it was fomenting a foreign-backed “revolution”, though little evidence was presented to substantiate the claims. The CNRP had been the only viable competitor to the CPP in this year’s national elections.

Since the dissolution, ex-CNRP members have lobbied the international community to take action against Cambodia’s democratic backslide, drawing the ire of ruling party officials who accused them of undermining national interests.

CNRP public affairs official Kem Monovithya, who has drawn similar criticisms in recent weeks, yesterday said convening the National Assembly to ratify the amendments would go against the will of the people given the absence of the CNRP, which won 44 percent of the vote in the 2013 elections.

“[T]hey indeed openly show that they abuse the Constitution based on political vendetta,” she said in a message.

Passing a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the 123-seat assembly. The CPP, which holds 79 seats, would need three more votes to approve the changes.

However, Funcinpec spokesman Nheb Bun Chin seemed inclined yesterday to vote in favour of the proposals if it upheld the “interests of the nation”, but said the party needed to review the final amendments.
“When we think it helps develop the country and helps the government, we will help and we will not make a confrontation,” he said.

Political observer Lao Mong Hay said the government should make the wording of these amendments clear to the people, given their potential impacts.

“The law which can impact the national interest should not be vague. When the wording is too vague it is up to their interpretation, and the one with the ‘big guns’ can interpret it” as they please, he said.

Additional Reporting Ananth Baliga