The National Assembly on Thursday approved amendments to eight articles of the Constitution — changes strongly opposed by opposition parties and civil society groups.
At Thursday’s plenary session, attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, 105 of 106 parliamentarians approved the revisions.
Minister of Justice Koeut Rith said the amendments were needed to fill legal gaps in the constitution and ensure the functioning of the nation’s top institutions. He rejected allegations that the amendments would weaken the Kingdom’s parliamentary system.
“The amendments serve the national interest,” he said. “A political deadlock is what opposition groups want, because they always find loopholes in the Constitution to create conflict for their own political benefit.”
More than 100 civil society groups on Wednesday called for the National Assembly to delay the CPP-proposed changes. They said the amendments undermined the National Assembly’s role as a check on government power and weakened the rights of citizens.
“We are dissatisfied with what is happening, but we cannot do anything to stop it,” said Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight Party. “We want the body to be more accountable, so that the government can function responsibly. We don’t want changes to protect the power of individuals or government leaders.”
Sam Inn, secretary general of the Grassroots Democratic Party, expressed dismay at the changes.
“The amendment weakens the Assembly’s power to hold government officials accountable,” he said. “We are concerned that corruption and abuse of power will increase in the future.”
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan defended the changes, saying the amendments were made in accordance with the constitution. He denied it was a ruling party power grab.
“NGO groups say that to please their bosses and disrupt government progress,” he said. “The amendments are needed to ensure smooth transitions of power between governments.”
The most influential changes were to Articles 98 and 119.
Article 98 governs the Assembly’s power to dismiss governments and government officials. The article previously required 30 of the assembly’s 125 members to approve a dismissal. The amendment increased the threshold to one-third, or at least 41 lawmakers. The CPP currently holds all 125 assembly seats.
Article 119 regulates the Assembly’s rules on appointing prime ministers and forming new governments. Previously, the Assembly’s president and two vice presidents held that power. The amendment shifts responsibility to the party with the most National Assembly seats.
Korn Savang, an election observer with the monitoring group COMFREL, expressed disappointment with the parliamentary decision, saying constitutional amendments should be put before the public.
“It is a decision mandated to the National Assembly,” he said. “But we, as Cambodians, express our concern. We will closely monitor the implementation.”