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Opposition parties want CPP-backed constitutional amendments scrapped

Yeng Virak, center, president of the Grassroots Democratic Party, speaks to the media after submitting a petition to the National Assembly, July 21, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Yeng Virak, center, president of the Grassroots Democratic Party, speaks to the media after submitting a petition to the National Assembly, July 21, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

An alliance of opposition groups led by the Candlelight Party asked the National Assembly to reject CPP-proposed changes to the constitution, saying the amendments weakened parliament and violated the principles of multiparty democracy.

Critics said the updates were designed to further concentrate power with the ruling party and laid the legal groundwork for Prime Minister Hun Sen to appoint his eldest son, Hun Manet, as the next premier.

“We don’t support the amendments,” said Yeng Virak, president of the Grassroots Democratic Party. “They allow the party with the most seats to appoint the prime minister, instead of the National Assembly.”

Virak delivered the petition to the National Assembly on Thursday with leaders from the Candlelight Party, Khmer Will Party and Cambodia Reform Party. The group suggested constitutional changes of their own, aimed at guaranteeing the National Election Committee’s independence.

“We will come back and ask parliament to consider this,” Virak said. 

The draft amendments were submitted last week.

Minister of Justice Koeut Rith said at the time that the opposition’s concerns were unfounded. Cambodia was still a multiparty democracy, and the amendments did not appoint the CPP to permanently lead the country.

Critics, however, said the amendments will do exactly that.

Article 119 gives the National Assembly president and two vice presidents the power to form a new government. A proposed amendment would allow the party with the most National Assembly seats to form a government, and, most significantly, appoint a new prime minister. 

Article 98 governs the assembly’s power to dismiss governments and government officials. The law requires 30 of the assembly’s 125 members to dismiss a sitting government. A proposed amendment would increase the threshold to one-third.

“It is really a concern,” said Chep Kim Eang, vice president of the Candlelight Party. “Before we needed 30 parliamentarians to file a reprimand against a government official — now we need 42. This is a reduction of people’s power through their representatives.”

Em Sovannara, a political analyst, called the group’s petition little more than a symbolic protest. The CPP proposed the amendments, the CPP central committee supported them, and the party controlled all 125 National Assembly seats, guaranteeing their passage.

Leng Peng Long, a spokesman for the National Assembly, said​ the body will review the draft amendments before submitting them to the assembly president. As for the opposition’s concerns, he said, they are free to share them.

“They have the right to free expression,” he said. “It’s ok if they want to express their opinion.”

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