Chea Sim Retains Position Despite Absence From Public Eye

Despite his image appearing alongside the CPP’s two other “Samdechs” on banners around the country, Senate and CPP President Chea Sim has been absent from campaigning for Sunday’s national election.

Mr. Sim, 80, has largely been out of public sight for years with illness, making appearances only to scotch recurring rumors that he has passed away. He last appeared in public, without speaking, at the launch of the CPP’s campaign on June 27.

Yim Leang, deputy chief of Mr. Sim’s cabinet said the ruling party’s president is not physically strong enough to take part in the election campaign.

“It’s normal, he’s in his 80s now, so how can he be strong?” said Mr. Leang, adding that the most recent rumors about Mr. Sim’s health were sparked only by a common cold.

In recent years, Mr. Sim has been replaced in his duties at the Senate by his first deputy, Say Chhum, a permanent member of the CPP’s Standing Committee.

But despite Mr. Sim’s inactivity, Mr. Leang said there were no plans to officially replace him at the head of the ruling party.

“The CPP has no policy to change him,” he said.

Opposition party Senator Kong Korm said Mr. Sim had long been relieved of any active role in Senate affairs.

Mr. Korm said the change made little difference, since Mr. Chhum, like Mr. Sim, simply followed the line of the ruling party—which holds the majority of seats in the Senate.

History indicates that in the aftermath of a close election, however, Mr. Sim’s position as deputy head of state, and his status as the head of a so-called faction of support within the CPP, could become central.

Following the 2003 national election, the CPP won a majority of National Assembly seats, but not enough seats—then two-thirds of all seats in Parliament—to govern alone.

Following a yearlong stalemate during which the country was without a government, the CPP and Funcinpec struck a deal in July 2004 to form a coalition, which required extensive changes to the Constitution.

In the absence of the then-king, late Norodom Sihanouk—who had left the country for medical treatment in China—the responsibility fell to Mr. Sim, as acting head of state, to sign off on the changes.

Mr. Sim did not sign off on the changes, but instead left the country, under a heavy police presence deployed by the CPP’s then much-feared chief of police, Hok Lundy.

Mr. Sim claimed he had medical problems that required treatment in Bangkok, but it was suspected he had refused to sign off on the so-called “package vote.” With Mr. Sim absent from the country, the decision to sign off on the controversial changes to the Constitution was made by then-Deputy Senate President Nhiek Bun Chhay, who was then-Funcinpec vice president. Mr. Bun Chhay would later push out Prince Norodom Ranariddh as president of Funcinpec.

Additionally, in 2006, the Constitution was amended to require only 50 percent plus one seat in the National Assembly to form a government.

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