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Royal Government of Cambodia [RGC]

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, and its constitution provides for a multiparty democracy. The Royal Government of Cambodia, formed on the basis of elections internationally recognized as free and fair, was established on September 24, 1993. The constitution established three branches of government — legislative, judicial, and executive. In practice, the legislature and the judiciary are not well developed, and the executive holds most of the government’s power. Also, in 1993 Cambodia held its first general election, with support from the UN.

The election resulted in a coalition government between the Cambodian People’s Party [the former Communist party] and FUNCINPEC, the royalist party, with two co-prime ministers - Hun Sen, since 1985 the prime minister in the Communist government, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. This uneasy coalition became untenable in 1997, as factions of the military loyal to the various political parties began fighting in the capital, and one coprime minister remained in power. By the end of 1997, the parties agreed to cease fighting and hold new elections in 1998. The 1998 elections reestablished the coalition, but under one prime minister from the Cambodian People’s Party.

Under the Cambodian constitution, a new King is to be elected from among members of the three royal blood lines by the Throne Council within seven days of the death of the former King. A sitting King has no inherent constitutional role and there is no heir apparent. And the constitution is moot on what happens of the King abdicates.

The executive branch comprises the king, who is head of state; an appointed prime minister; 10 deputy prime ministers, 16 senior ministers, 26 ministers, 206 secretaries of state, and 205 undersecretaries of state. The bicameral legislature consists of a 123-member elected National Assembly and a 61-member Senate. The judiciary includes a Supreme Court, lower courts, and an internationalized court with jurisdiction over the serious crimes of the Khmer Rouge era. Administrative subdivisions are 23 provinces and 1 municipality.

The three most influential political parties in Cambodia are the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the Sam Rainsy Party [SRP], and FUNCINPEC. In the 2003 election the CPP had won the most seats but still lacked the necessary two-thirds majority in order to form a government, and needed one of the parties to join with it as a governing partner. In the end, FUNCINPEC made a deal with Hun Sen and joined the government, leaving the SRP in opposition. Following this long period of negotiations (11 months) after the 2003 elections, it was decided to create a massively expanded government with 7 deputy prime ministers, 15 senior ministers, 28 ministers and 135 secretaries of state.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced 02 March 2006 that the RGC would end the practice of Co-Ministers, which had been a political fixture since the 1993 elections. Since 1993, the PM's Cambodian People's Party and the Royalist FUNCNPEC party have shared co-ministers of Defense and Interior portfolios, even though the FUNCINPEC officials held little real authority.

The 1993 constitution provides for a wide range of internationally recognized human rights, including freedom of the press. While freedom of the press has improved markedly in Cambodia since the adoption of the constitution, limitations still exist on mass media. Much of the written press, while considered largely free, has ties to individual political parties or factions and does not seek to provide objective reporting or analysis. Cambodia has an estimated 25 Khmer-language newspapers that are published regularly. Of these, eight are published daily; three opposition papers are published regularly and two of these are daily publications. There are two major English-language newspapers, two of which are dailies. Broadcast media, in contrast to print, is more closely controlled. It tends to be politically affiliated with the CPP, and access for opposition parties is extremely limited.

The structure of the National Election Committee (NEC) and the legal framework of the election law require more attention. A more independent agency with greater budgetary freedom and with greater powers in certain areas to protect the integrity of the election will bring the election process closer to an international standard. Nonetheless, the NEC is improving its performance and this greater impartiality translates into more political freedoms for parties and their supporters, as well as a more nearly fair election process.

FUNCINPEC's poor relationship with the CPP was instrumental in convincing Hun Sen of the utility of Sam Rainsy's proposal to amend the Constitution and allow the formation of a government under a 50 percent plus 1 formula. Under the SRP-proposed change, any party that achieved 50 percent plus one of the National Assembly seats would be in a position to form a government, and there would be no need to seek minority parties as coalition partners. The PM welcomed the proposed amendment, saying it would help to prevent the protracted political deadlock and negotiations that followed the 2003 elections.

In February 2006, the National Assembly passed a law allowing a party to form a government and pass bills with a simple rather than two-thirds majority. Constitutional amendments of March 2006 changed the requirement of a two-third majority of all members of the National Assembly to form a government. Since then, the requirement was lowered to the absolute majority of all members of the National Assembly.

Prince Ranariddh proposed that Cambodian voters be allowed to cast ballots for individual candidates, and not just political parties. With the proposal still under consideration within FUNCINPEC, royalist party members contend that such a system would be more democratic, reduce corruption, and make public officials more accountable to the population. Some observers believe that the FUNCINPEC-proposed system would favor wealthy candidates, who would have more resources to devote to campaigning.

An interesting feature of the institutional set-up is related to the role of the village chiefs. The overwhelming majority of them are aligned with the CPP and have a considerable potential to influence the electorate in their villages, which is combined also with a deep-rooted culture of clientelism.

Last but not least, it should be pointed out that the weaknesses of the judicial system remain a cause of concern, which cannot be considered and independent nor free of political interference. The prevalent culture of impunity, the inadequacy of the police and the level of corruption provide a very fertile ground for intimidation. Court clerks commonly ask plaintiffs and defendants how much they are willing to pay the judge to win their case.

To establish the rule of law in Cambodia — which the Cambodian prime minister has defined as having laws, regulations, and formal rules publicly known and enforced in a predictable manner through transparent mechanisms — the government has committed to develop new laws and increase the independence and competence of its judiciary.

Instead of playing balance-of-power roles, the judiciary and parliament are firmly under Government and party control. The miniscule size of the legal system is one factor facilitating Government control. There are only 100 judges, 100 prosecutors and 250 private attorneys. A 2000 Asian Development Bank-sponsored study found that about 37 percent of Cambodia’s judges had any legal training and only 40 percent had reached — although not necessarily completed — a high school level education.

The Constitution provides for a Supreme Council of Magistrates, headed by the King, that should, by law, autonomously and impartially select senior judges. In reality, the Council has little power to appoint or terminate; judges are self-selected for all practical purposes, having bought their positions. The Council accedes to appointments decided internally, by CPP leaders.

Parliamentarians, even CPP members, have little legitimate power. They receive a relatively generous salary ($2,000 per month), but have little scope to criticize or change Government legislation. The national budget is “debated” each year, but MPs don’t “interfere” by questioning specific items or demanding changes. The fact that CPP members of the National Assembly serve at the pleasure of the party, and not the citizens who vote for them, is emphasized, as each candidate is required to sign an undated resignation letter before being added to the party list. Parliament has little control over the military or police. As a result, the military remains under direct CPP control, an important facet of systemic corruption, and invaluable resource in maintaining power.

There is a general underdevelopment and inefficiency of the Cambodian state. Institutions are weak, and public officials lack management skills. Even if sufficient political will existed to implement reforms, results would not be forthcoming quickly. At least one more generation of leaders and managers needs to be educated to make up for human capital lost during two decades of atrocities and war.

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Page last modified: 02-06-2012 17:25:35 ZULU