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Role of Assembly Hobbled, Lawmakers Say

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the second in a two-part series examining the National Assembly.]

A crowd of 20 people have gathered in Kandal province, looking for the resolution to a land dispute, the alleged sale of 6 hectares of land by local authorities.

“We’ve never seen a parliamentarian come,” says one. “We don’t know them. We are waiting for their intervention.”

The concerns of the villagers underscore an important part of the democratic process: what National Assembly members do once they are elected. With less than three months to the general elections, it’s a question worth asking.

Parliamentarians admitted in interviews they have been unsuccessful in land disputes, and more.

“There are many factors because of which we cannot reach a good result,” said Monh Sophan, a Funcinpec lawmaker for Kampong Cham province. But, he said, the National Assembly has responded to some needs in terms of adopting laws.

This session of the National Assembly began in July 2004, 11 months after the general elections, due to political crisis. More than 140 laws and agreements have been passed since then.

“It is historical work by the National Assembly,” said Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the Cambodian People’s Party, who represents Prey Veng province.

Not everyone agrees.

Son Chhay, a National Assemblyman from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said many of the laws that were passed were done to benefit the ruling party, a charge Cheam Yiep denies.

The National Assembly has 123 seats: the Sam Rainsy Party has 24, Funcinpec has 26 and the CPP has 73. The lawmakers have three key roles: proposing and discussing laws, oversight of laws, and the representation of constituents.

“The management of the National Assembly does not respect the constitution and democracy,” Son Chhay said, citing influence of the ruling party and patronage by CPP honorary president Heng Samrin, who heads the Assembly.

Im Francois, a political program officer at the Center for Social Development, noted the same problem. Another issue, he said, is that the National Assembly has no power to get the Executive Branch to answer to them.

“Government representatives do not respond to requests of parliamentarians,” he said. “But in a democracy, government representatives come each week to answer questions of lawmakers.”