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Cambodia's New Parliament Meets, Approves Constitutional Changes - 2004-07-08


Cambodia's new parliament met for the first time in more than 11 months and approved several constitutional amendments needed to ratify the new coalition government. But the opening votes were not without controversy, as the opposition Sam Rainsy Party boycotted the session. The constitutional amendments pave the way for a new government to take power in Cambodia, ending an 11-month political stalemate.

The changes let the national assembly jointly elect Hun Sen the prime minister and his coalition partner Prince Norodom Ranariddh the national assembly president.

Cambodian law normally requires individual votes for each appointment, instead of blanket approval. But the coalition is uneasy and the move preempts last-minute politicking that could threaten the deal.

Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, who was left out of the coalition, says the amendments are unconstitutional and his party boycotted the vote.

"Our country is facing a very, very serious danger," said Sam Rithy Doung Hak, the Sam Rainsy Party's cabinet chief. "We want to have new government but all the procedure to elect a new government must be in line with the constitution spirit."

Pro-democracy and civic action groups also say the so-called "package vote" violates the constitution.

Despite legal concerns and Mr. Rainsy's opposition, there were just enough votes in the assembly to approve legislation. It now heads to the Senate where it is expected to pass and become law within a week. Barring delays, the new government and parliament can officially take office next Thursday.

The coalition government brings together the royalist FUNCINPEC party with Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodia People's Party.

Hun Sen won the popular vote in national elections held last July, but failed to gather sufficient support to govern independently. His party, FUNCINPEC and the Sam Rainsy Party failed repeatedly to form a coalition.

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