The body designated with reviewing changes to the Cambodian Constitution gave its OK on Thursday to a proposal critics say will make it easier for Prime Minister Hun Sen to transfer power to his son Hun Manet.

The process for choosing Cambodia’s leader under Article 119 of the constitution as now written states that the National Assembly must approve a prime minister who has been designated for the role by the country’s king.

The proposed changes to 119, approved by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia (CCC), would give the king the power to appoint the prime minister with only the approval of the president of the assembly.

Additionally the prime minister could appoint an acting prime minister in times of temporary absence, under a proposed change to Article 125 of the constitution that was also approved by the CCC. Hun Sen’s Cabinet has previously approved the changes. The changes must still be approved by the assembly, which is now made up entirely of representatives from Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

“The amendment makes the National Assembly lose power,” Yang Saign Koma, founder of the small opposition Grassroots Democratic Party, told RFA’s Khmer Service. “This isn’t needed. We need transparency. The amendments are not necessary, especially on 125 and 119.”

Cambodians should get a chance through a national referendum to vote on the proposed changes, he said. Consideration of the amendments is being rushed to ensure Hun Manet succeeds his father, who has ruled the country since 1985 and is now 69, Yang Saign Koma said.

“This is aimed at transferring power after the 2023 general election,” he said.

In 2023, Cambodian voters will go to the polls to elect members of the assembly. If the main opposition Candlelight Party were to win a significant number of seats, the transition of power from father and son could be more complicated under the current constitution. The party won about 20 percent of seats in this year’s commune council elections, making it Cambodia’s leading opposition to the CPP.

The amendments show that the CPP does not want to relinquish its power, Candlelight Party Vice President Thach Setha told RFA.

Candidates for the CPP won every seat in the assembly in the 2018 election after the Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had been the leading opposition party, the previous year. That sparked a five-year crackdown on political opposition by Hun Sen and his cronies.

“The government should wait until there are multiple parties in the assembly after the 2023 election,” Thach Setha said. “Maybe [the CPP] thinks it would be difficult to do under a new National Assembly. [The amendment] is not necessary. The CPP treats the country as if it has an emergency. This creates a lot of suspicion.”

Exiled political analyst Kim Sok told RFA that the amendment makes it unlikely that anyone outside Hun Sen’s family becomes prime minister after him.

“The amendment is to serve Hun Sen’s power transfer plan for the Hun Dynasty,” he said.

Cambodia’s minister of justice, Koeut Rith, on Thursday defended the proposed amendment, saying that it would close loopholes surrounding high-level government offices in the event of vacancies.

“Due to the current situation, it is risky to have the prime minister’s position vacant so amending Article 125 will fill the gaps in the constitution,” he said.

“There are four major points, to appoint an acting prime minister, [clarify] reasons for the vacant prime minister position, as either death and resignation, in order to maintain the legislation continuation through speedy new cabinet appointments,” he said.

The proposed amendment would change a total of eight articles. Thursday’s approval sends the amendment to the National Assembly for debate.

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