Civil society organizations on Thursday criticized the head of Cambodia’s parliament for issuing a circular preventing the public and media from attending meetings of the legislature’s commissions, saying the move flies in the face of democratic principles.
Half of the 10 commissions, which cover a range of topics, are led by the opposition, which has vowed to hold hearings to investigate issues such as human rights and corruption.
The opposition ended a nearly one-year boycott of parliament in August following disputed July 2013 general elections after a political settlement with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
More than a dozen civil society groups said in a statement Thursday that the circular issued by National Assembly (parliament) President Heng Samrin on Sept. 12 was in violation of an agreement between Hun Sen and opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy that underlined democracy and transparency.
Under the agreement, Hun Sen agreed to grant the CNRP leadership of parliamentary committees and reform the country’s electoral system.
“Civil society organizations demand that the legislative institution should pay more attention to the principles of democracy, transparency and effectiveness in the National Assembly by dissolving the circular,” the statement said.
Besides citing the circular’s exclusion of civil society and the public and media from observing the meetings, the statement contends that National Assembly regulations do not give any power to its president to issue circulars defining the rights and authority of the commissions’ operations.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, one of the groups that signed the statement, told RFA’s Khmer Service that Heng Samrin’s circular “downgraded the democratic process in the country.”
He also warned that the circular would solidify the power of the CPP.
“Heng Samrin wants to control everything,” he said.
Opposition lawmakers have criticized the circular, arguing that it would curb their plans to summon government ministers and experts for questioning, The Cambodia Daily reported.
National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun last week defended the circular, saying it was within Heng Samrin’s authority to issue it without consulting other lawmakers, the report said.
“Some of the commissions led by the opposition party are working to conduct public meetings or hearings and debates, while the president of the ruling party and National Assembly secretariat seem to be seeking to control the commissions by issuing the circular,” the statement issued by the civil society groups said.
Ny Chakriya, chief investigator of rights group Adhoc, said the circular went against the constitution.
“Heng Samrin’s circular is not valid according to the law,” he told RFA.
The statement also took the National Assembly to task for making it more difficult for civil society groups to submit letters to legislators.
They cited a Sept. 5 instance where they tried to submit a letter to all 123 lawmakers.
The move was rejected pending submission to the body’s secretariat for clearance.
The civil society groups also noted an incident a week later when election watchdog organization Comfrel submitted a letter to the National Assembly’s secretariat for permission to circulate the same letter but said there had been no response so far.
They called on the legislature to order the secretariat to facilitate the delivery of letters to members of parliament and improve its own internal regulations for the smooth functioning of the commissions in line with democratic principles.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.