King Norodom Sihanouk weighed in on the controversial issue of creating a Senate on Saturday, saying it should be limited in members but still represent the nation’s various professions and ethnic groups.
In the faxed interview with his staff from Beijing, the King pointed to the Royal Council, which existed in Cambodia between 1947 and 1969, as a precedent for an upper house, as well as the fact many liberal democracies have a bicameral legislative branch.
The main constraint for a Senate in Cambodia, the King said, is less a matter of political philosophy and more a practical question of finances.
“Endowing Cambodia with a Senate is untimely only to the extent that our national budget and other state coffers are in an extremely difficult situation,” the monarch said. “In order not to spend too much money to ‘maintain’ our eventual Senate, it is appropriate not to have too many Senators.”
While the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and some NGOs have opposed the appointment of senators, the King suggested only six be appointed—two each by himself, the National Assembly and the government.
The King envisioned the rest of the Senate made up of representatives from different ethnic groups, as well as from a spectrum of professions including artists, farmers, industrialists, and workers.
“They will defend the interests of their professions and groups respectively. The mode of their election will be different from that of the [appointed] deputies,” he said.
King Sihanouk did not specify how such senators should be elected, nor how many professions should be represented.
The interview included the King’s first in-depth remarks on the Senate since the body was proposed in a November summit between Funcinpec and the CPP.
When opposition leader Sam Rainsy sent the King a letter earlier this month stating his concerns that the Senate was “a sinecure for Chea Sim,” the monarch’s response was to forward the letter to government and National Assembly leaders.
He also said he wasn’t opposed to the idea of appointing CPP President Chea Sim as head of the High Council to the Throne or the Constitutional Council.
Several Phnom Penh NGOs and think tanks have suggested offering Chea Sim those posts instead of creating a Senate.