Expelled CPP Senators Join Sam Rainsy Party

Two former senators an­nounced on Thursday that they are joining the opposition Sam Rainsy Party—one year from the day they were expelled from the ruling CPP and the Senate.

Phay Siphan and Pou Savath, the former senators, are part of a group of more than 100 mostly expatriate Cambodians who will join the Sam Rainsy Party en masse, Phay Siphan said on Thursday. The group also in­cludes the chairmen of two small political groups who have agreed to dissolve their parties into the opposition.

“It is a partnership seeking an opportunity to serve the people,” Phay Siphan said on Thursday. “We share the party’s goals to pursue freedom, liberty and happiness for all.”

It is a stark turnaround for a man who once delivered virulent radio diatribes against the opposition and Funcinpec. But Phay Siphan said he now believes the CPP betrayed him.

Phay Siphan, Pou Savath and another senator, Chhang Song, were all abruptly fired by the CPP last December when they deviated from the party line by criticizing proposed amendments to the penal code.

A fourth CPP senator, French-Cambodian Keo San, was ex­pelled in January for criticizing Royal Palace expenditures.

Phay Siphan and his bloc have negotiated with the Sam Rainsy Party to join in an “equal partnership”—to ensure they aren’t ignored the way they were in the CPP, he said.

While they share the ideas of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, they believe his methods are often too confrontational, Phay Siphan said.

“We don’t want to create a force to oppose anyone. We want to be a strengthening force to rebuild the country,” he said. “Our group is seeking an alternative way.”

The other former senator, Cambodian-Australian Pou Savath, could not be reached for confirmation Thursday because he is in Australia for his son’s funeral. But he hinted in earlier e-mail correspondence that he would join the opposition with Phay Siphan.

Leng Seng, chairman of the Party for National Rebuilding, which contested the 1998 national elections, confirmed on Thursday he was part of the group that would join the Sam Rainsy Party. Ted Ngoy, chairman of the Free Development Republican Party, could not be reached for confirmation because he is in the US.

The rest of the bloc consists largely of Cambodian-American students, business people and community leaders, Phay Siphan said.

Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang on Thursday confirmed that the former senators were joining the opposition. Asked if accepting former members of the CPP might erode the opposition’s credibility, he said, “They are former CPP. Now they are SRP members.” Party leader Sam Rainsy is in France and could not comment.

Phay Siphan left behind a comfortable life as a businessman in the US state of California when, in 1997, he returned to Cambodia and joined the CPP. At the time, the party needed overseas Cambodians to give it legitimacy. In return, he said in an earlier interview, the CPP promised the overseas Cambodians 30 percent of its powerful Central Committee.

“We thought we could make the CPP change toward democracy and a free market. We were mistaken,” Phay Siphan said.

In the run-up to the 1998 elections, Phay Siphan spent two hours a day criticizing the other major parties, especially the opposition, on Apsara Radio. He called the show “Voice of Khmer America,” billed himself as a “political analyst” named “Peter,” and spoke Khmer with an exaggerated US accent.

After the elections the CPP gave Phay Siphan a position in the newly created Senate and put him in charge of relations with the Cambodian-American community.

An international lawmakers’ group, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, has since ruled that the three senators’ expulsions from the Senate were illegal. Phay Siphan and Pou Savath also met with UN Human Rights Envoy Peter Leuprecht when he visited Cambodia last month to discuss their expulsions.

Today, Phay Siphan said, there is only one overseas Cambodian on the CPP Central Committee: Thor Peng Leath, a former governor of the National Bank.

“They used us like a flowerpot,” he said. “We made them look good, and when they thought they didn’t need us anymore they got rid of us.”


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