Analyst: Senate Debate Chilled by Firings

The Senate reconvened Thur­sday—minus three former CPP senators fired for failing to follow the party line—and added Cam­bodia’s name to the list of nations to have ratified the International Criminal Court.

Pov Savath, Chhang Song and Phay Siphan were fired and expelled from the party Dec 6. Their appointed replacements are CPP members Som Sopha, Um Sarith and Lak Oun.

Analysts Thursday predicted the departures would cast a pall over the Senate, making legislators afraid to speak their minds.

“It will affect not only debate within the Senate but also the broader public debate,” one political analyst said. “From now on, people will have to pay for what they say.”

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, agreed. The firings “were a warning to the legislature—a clear signal that you have to behave.”

The firings are part of a trend toward decreasing tolerance of dissent, akin to a November government directive prohibiting officials from participating in public meetings and forums without permission, Chea Vannath said.

“While freedom of expression is very much tolerated on the civil society side, it’s still very much controlled on the government side,” she said.

Senate Secretary-General Oum Sarith said at the time the senators were purged because they deviated from the party’s position when they opposed a revision to the penal code that would allow police to detain suspects for three rather than two days.

While the three were not as outspoken as senators from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, they were more vocal than most of their colleagues in the CPP, observers said. In addition, all three spent time living as expatriates in the US or Australia.

One of the three, Pov Savath, predicted his former colleagues would react to the dismissals by carefully holding their tongues.

“If they spoke the way I did, they would be dismissed too, no doubt about it. There won’t be much life in the discussion anymore,” he said.

Few CPP senators participated in the debate over the international court, which was ratified unanimously Thursday. The National Assembly approved the measure last month.

Funcinpec Senator Kim Sokha said Cambodia, with its traumatic history, was proud to have ap­proved the Rome Statute that provides for the court. It will prevent future leaders from abusing their own people, he said.

Cambodia is the 46th nation to ratify the court, which will give the court power to try those accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity once 60 countries approve it. Thailand and the Philippines are the only other Southeast Asian nations to approve the court so far.


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