Constitutional Amendments Pass Lower House

16 min read
National Assembly president Heng Samrin at the vote for constitutional amendments on July 28, 2022. (Hun Sen’s Facebook page)

The National Assembly passed eight amendments to the Cambodian Constitution, with ruling-party lawmakers criticizing opposition to the proposed changes from small political parties.

The government, without any prior notice or consultation, announced eight new amendments to the Constitution on July 8, which has since been reviewed by the Constitutional Council and was strongly defended by the Justice Ministry on July 14.

The amendments mostly clarify articles that deal with transition of power, appointment of interim prime ministers and the process of forming the government.

One-hundred and five members of the all-CPP National Assembly voted to pass all the amendments. Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior members of the cabinet were in attendance.

Official records show that 106 lawmakers were present in parliament on Thursday, but this includes a new National Assembly member who was approved to join parliament but could not vote on the amendments because he had yet to be sworn-in.

The articles being amended are divided into two groups: six of them are 19, 89, 98, 102, 119 and 125. The two other articles are 3 and 4 from the Additional Constitutional Law, which is appended to the Constitution.

Justice Minister Keut Rith again defended the amendments as necessary changes that would ensure stability of the executive and maintain its powers. He was quick to dismiss concerns raised by four small parties — the Candlelight Party, Grassroots Democratic Party, Khmer Will Party and Cambodia Reform Party — who had asked the government to hold off on the proposed amendments.

“The announcement by four outside-the-government parties to not support the constitutional amendments at this time is a normal thing and it is the habit of parties to have a political stance that is not in line with the government,” Rith said in parliament.

​​After the National Assembly session, minor political parties, most with little to no presence in elected positions across the country, issued statements of support published on government-friendly Fresh News. They include Khmer United Party, the Nhek Bun Chhay-run Khmer National United Party and the Cambodia Youth Party, which is headed by Pich Sros, who filed the complaint in 2017 to dissolve the main opposition CNRP.

Rith held a marathon press conference two weeks ago to explain and justify each change proposed to the Constitution, and again reiterated on Thursday that they were necessary to clarify ambiguities in the text and to ensure the government was never in gridlock and could function smoothly.

Minister for the Council of Ministers Bin Chhin also defended the amendments, pointing to the old text of Article 89 where it said a “high-ranking personality” could be invited to the National Assembly to provide clarity on issues of national importance. He said the lack of clarity about who a “high-ranking personality” could result in the article being interpreted in different ways.

He similarly pointed to other changes, such as clarifications for appointment of an interim prime minister, as necessary to keep the government functioning without hindrance.

The Senate will now consider the amendments, and if passed the draft legislation will head to the king for his approval.

The government’s stated reasoning for each change, as stated earlier this month, is as follows:

Article 19

Current Draft
The King shall appoint the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers in accordance with the procedures stipulated in Article 119 new.The King shall appoint the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers in accordance with the procedures stipulated in Article 119 new (2).
Government’s reasons: The article was amended only to update the reference to the new Article 119 new (2).

Article 89

Current Draft
Upon the request from at least one-tenth of its Members, the National Assembly can invite a high ranking personality to come and clarify on issues of particular importance.Upon the request from at least one-tenth of its Members, the National Assembly can invite one or more government members accompanied by expert figures of any field to clarify to the national assembly about a special and necessary issue.
Government’s reasons: Rith said the term “high ranking personality” was vague and should directly refer to a member of the executive or government. This would clarify that the government, or executive, was responsible before the National Assembly.

Article 98

Current Draft
The National Assembly can dismiss a Member of the Royal Government or remove the Royal Government from office by voting a motion of censure at the absolute majority of all its Members.The National Assembly can dismiss a Member of the Council of Ministers or remove the Royal Government from office by voting a motion of censure at the absolute majority of all its members.
In case the Royal Government is removed from office by the National Assembly, the Royal Government that is to leave the position only has the duty to lead daily work until a new government comes to office.
The motion of censure against the Royal Government must be submitted to the National Assembly by thirty of its Members before this motion of censure can be examined.The motion of censure against the Royal government must be submitted to the National Assembly by one-third of all its members before the motion of censure can be examined.
Government’s reasons: The first reasoning for this amendment, Rith said, was to ensure there were provisions for a caretaker government and its responsibilities during a transition of power to the next government.

He added that the requirement of 30 members needed for censure had no strong foundation in the Constitution and was amended to require one-third of members. He said this would ensure the working of the government without disturbance and to make the invocation of censure an “important issue.”

Article 102

Current Draft
The legislature of the Senate is of 6 years and shall terminate on the day the new Senate enters in function.
In time of war or in other exceptional circumstances when it is impossible to organize the elections, the Senate may,on the proposal from the King, declare the prorogation of its legislature for one year each time.
The legislature of the Senate is of 6 years and shall terminate on the day the new Senate enters in function.
In time of war or in other exceptional circumstances when it is impossible to organize the elections, the Senate may, on the proposal from the King, declare the prorogation of its legislature for one year each time.
The declaration of prorogation of the Senate’s legislature must be adopted by at least two-third of all the Senators.The declaration of prorogation of the Senate’s legislature must be adopted by at least two-third of all Senators.
Under the aforementioned circumstances, the Senate shall convene everyday, in permanence. The Senate has the right to put an end to the aforementioned special circumstances, whenever the situation permits.Under the aforementioned circumstances, the Senate shall convene everyday, in permanence. The Senate has the right to put an end to the aforementioned special circumstances, whenever the situation permits. But upon the decision to end the special circumstances when the country is in a state of emergency, the Senate has to jointly decide with the National Assembly in a National Assembly and Senate congress except the implementation of Article 86 of the Constitution.
If the Senate can not convene for imperative reasons, notably in case of territorial occupation by foreign forces, the declaration of the state of emergency must be automatically extended.If the Senate cannot convene for important reasons, notably in case of territorial occupation by foreign forces, the declaration of the state of emergency must be automatically extended.
Government’s reasons: The justice minister said both the National Assembly and Senate have powers to end a state of emergency, given rise to the potential scenario of both making opposing decisions. The additions to Article 102 will now require both to take a unified decision. 

Article 119

Current Draft
Upon the proposal of the President of the National Assembly in agreement with the two Vice-Presidents, the King assigns a high ranking personality among the Members of National Assembly from the election winning party, to form the Royal Government.Upon the proposal of a party with more seats than others in the National Assembly, the King assigns a high ranking personality as a Prime Minister to form the Royal Government. The proposal from the party with the most seats in the National Assembly must give a copy for the President of the National Assembly. A high ranking personality who would be appointed as a Prime Minister has to be a lawmaker with single Khmer nationality and has to be chosen from a party that has more seats than others in the National Assembly.
This assigned high ranking personality, accompanied by his collaborators who are Members of the National Assembly or members of the parties represented at the National Assembly and who are in charge of ministerial functions within the Royal Government, solicits the confidence from the National Assembly.This assigned high ranking personality, accompanied by his collaborators who are Members of the National Assembly or members of the parties represented at the National Assembly and who are in charge of ministerial functions within the Royal Government, solicits the confidence from the National Assembly.
The vote of confidence has to be done on the list of members of the whole Council of Ministers.
Once the National Assembly has voted the confidence, the King signs the Kret appointing the whole Council of Ministers.Once the National Assembly has voted the confidence, the King signs the Kret appointing the whole Council of Ministers.
Before taking office, the Council of Ministers shall take oath according to the text written in Annex 6.Before taking office, the Council of Ministers shall take oath according to the text written in Annex 6.
When finishing each of the legislative sessions of the National Assembly, the government supposed to leave the position has only duty on daily work until a new government takes office.
Government’s reasons: Rith said the amendment to Article 119 now places the onus on inviting the party with most seats in the National Assembly — who had been “directly voted by the people” — to stake its claim to the prime ministership and to form the Council of Ministers.

Article 125

Current Draft
In case of the definitive vacancy of Prime Minister’s position, a new Council of Ministers shall be appointed under the conditions provided by the present Constitution. If the vacancy is temporary, a Prime Minister ad interim shall be provisionally assigned.In case of a temporary vacancy of the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister shall assign one Deputy Prime Minister to be an Acting Prime Minister to temporarily lead the Council of Ministers.
In case of the definitive vacancy of Prime Minister’s position with the reasons being death or resignation from the position, a new Council of Ministers needs to be immediately appointed in the condition as stated in this Constitution. The president of the National Assembly must call for a National Assembly meeting immediately and take other necessary actions within seven days at the most after receiving a proposal from a party that has more seats than others in the National Assembly.
In case of the definitive vacancy of the Prime Minister’s position with the reason being death, the Council of Ministers that is supposed to leave its position, under the leadership of a Deputy Prime Minister who was assigned as an Acting Prime Minister has only the duty of the daily work until a new Council of Ministers takes office.
The resignation from the position by the Prime Minister has to come from a resignation letter that has to be sent to the King and a copy sent to the National Assembly. In this case, the Council of Ministers that is supposed to leave its position has to extend the leadership of Government work until a new Council of Ministers takes office.
Government’s reasons: The minister said the changes to Article 125 now clarified all the scenarios and what needs to be done in the temporary or permanent absence of the prime minister. Without these amendments, Ruth said, there could be instability in the government when the prime minister is absent.

Additional Constitutional Law Article 3

CurrentDraft
In case when the procedures stipulated in the Articles 82 and 119 new of the Constitution can not be implemented, the National Assembly, on the proposal of the majority political party, can proceed with the package vote to elect its President and its Vice-Presidents as well as the Chairpersons and Vice-Chairpersons of the Commissions, and at the same time to grant the confidence to the Royal Government.In case when the procedure stipulated in the new Article 82 new (1) and Article 119 new (2) of the Constitution cannot be implemented, the National Assembly, on the proposal of the party that has more seats than others in the National Assembly can proceed with the package vote to elect its President and its Vice-Presidents of the National Assembly as well as the Chairpersons and Vice-Chairpersons of Commissions at the same time to grant the confidence to the Royal Government.
Government’s reason: The justice minister did not specifically elaborate on this amendment, and the only changes VOD can see in this amendment are updating the names of the articles referenced in the text.

Additional Constitutional Law Article 4

CurrentDraft
The elaboration of the candidate lists for the elections and for the vote of confidence shall be organized as followed:The preparation of the list of members for appointment and giving confidence needs to be implemented as follows:
The list of the candidates for Presidency, Vice-Presidencies of the National Assembly, as well as of those for Chairmanship and Vice-Chairmanships of specialized Commissions, must be prepared and proposed by the political parties which agree to form a coalition government, then conveyed to the most senior member of the National Assembly.The list of members for president and vice president of the National Assembly as well as chairman and vice chairman of all specialized committees of the National Assembly must be prepared and requested by the political party with more seats than others in the National Assembly and sent to the most senior member of the National Assembly. The president of the National Assembly must be chosen from National Assembly members who have single Khmer nationality.
Upon the proposal by the majority political party at the National Assembly, submitted through the most senior member, the King designates a high ranking personality among the members of the National Assembly from the elections winning political party to form the Royal Government. This designated high ranking personality prepares the attribution of the different ministerial posts within the Royal Government, then sends the list of all its members to the most senior member of the National AssemblyUpon a proposal from the party with the most seats in the National Assembly, the King assigns a high ranking personality as the prime minister to create the Royal Government. The high ranking personality who is assigned as prime minister must be a lawmaker with single Khmer nationality and is chosen from the political party with the most seats in the National Assembly. The high ranking personality who is assigned shall prepare other positions in the Royal Government and then send the list of all names of the members of the government to the most senior member of the National Assembly.
The most senior member of the National Assembly shall combine these lists into a single one, composed of the candidates for Presidency, Vice-Presidencies of the National Assembly, for the Chairmanships and Vice-Chairmanships of all the specialized Commissions of the National Assembly as well as for the posts of Prime Minister and members of the Royal Government, in order to submit it to the vote of the National Assembly.The most senior member of the National Assembly members shall immediately prepare without hesitation a list of names composed of the President and Vice-President of the National Assembly as well as Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of all specialized Commissions of the National Assembly as well as the posts of Prime Minister that is appointed by the King and all members of the Royal Government to submit to the National Assembly for vote. The most senior member of the National Assembly has to lead the National Assembly’s meeting to adopt the list immediately.
The most senior member of the National Assembly shall be chosen as the National Assembly’s most senior member from among all members of the National Assembly. In case this most senior member of the National Assembly cannot fulfill their role, the position of this most senior member shall be handed to other National Assembly members who are the next most senior in rank respectively.
Government’s reason: Rith said they had replaced the old text, which referred to “political parties which agree to form a coalition government,” to the party with the most seats staking claim to form the government, in order to make it consistent with other amendments. However, this did not rule out the possibility of having a coalition government in the future, he said.

The new amendments are unofficial translations by VOD.

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