King Norodom Sihanouk has asked his son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of the National Assembly, to look into the firing of opposition parliamentarian Son Chhay.
The King’s intervention comes amid mounting criticism of the surprise move last week to dump the outspoken Son Chhay from his post as chairman of one of the assembly’s nine commissions.
The opposition party’s 15 assembly members have filed a complaint to the Constitutional Council, asking for a ruling on the legality of the firing, and the president of the Philippines Congress said he finds it ironic that “someone who is crusading for clean and honest government should be the target for expulsion.”
Cambodian human rights activists say they will be making plans “soon” for a campaign on Son Chhay’s behalf.
Prince Ranariddh could not be reached for comment.
Son Chhay was chairman of the National Assembly commission on Public Works, Transport, Telecommunications and Post, Industry, Mines, Energy and Commerce, the only commission chairmanship controlled by the Sam Rainsy Party.
The commission held a number of high-profile hearings in recent months, focusing on questionable business deals involving government officials, including no-bid contracts and sweetheart deals.
On Sept 13, six of the nine commission members left a meeting chaired by Son Chhay, went to another room, locked the door and voted him out of office. No Sam Rainsy Party members were allowed in the room and Son Chhay was replaced by the Funcinpec deputy chairman, Kim San.
Son Chhay says he was deposed because he drew too much attention to governmental corruption. The six members say they replaced him because he didn’t follow procedures, including failing to seek approval from Prince Ranariddh before informing the Swedish parliament that Swedish-owned telecommunications company MobiTel was paying the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications a $2,500 monthly salary.
“I am very concerned about this,” said Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights group Licadho, who said activists have been distracted by the US attacks, but will be meeting soon to decide how most effectively to protest.
“What is the real motivation to sack him like this? Why can six members of a nine-member commission have a meeting and remove the chairman?”
Such a decision, she said, should have been made after a public debate by the entire National Assembly. She noted the King had ratified a 1998 power-sharing deal giving control of four commissions to the ruling CPP, four to Funcinpec, and one to the Sam Rainsy Party.
The King referred to that agreement in his brief letter to Ranariddh, in which he wrote that the Sam Rainsy Party has asked him to “intervene” in the matter.
The King did not mention Son Chhay by name, addressing instead the question of whether National Assembly members have violated the agreement by appointing a Funcinpec member to take over as chairman.
Opposition party officials, the King wrote, “have asked me to intervene [with Ranariddh] to keep the position of the ninth commission chairman” in Sam Rainsy Party hands.
Thun Saray, director of the human rights group Adhoc, said he is distressed and concerned that the two major political parties appear to have violated the 1998 agreement.
“I think it is wrong not to respect that agreement,” he said. If government officials didn’t like the way Son Chhay was doing his job, he said, the next parliamentary election is in 2003.
To remove him in this manner, Thun Saray said, makes it appear “that they don’t like critics from the opposition.”
Sen Nene Pimentel, the speaker of the Philippines’ Congress, sent Son Chhay a consoling note.
Pimental was jailed for his pro-democracy views under the regime of former president Ferdinand Marcos, and more recently was a leader in the move to impeach former president Joseph Estrada.
“Because of what they are doing to you, I am all the more honored to be your friend,” he wrote. Instead of being depressed, Pimentel wrote, “You should in fact double your efforts to cleanse the government.
“Not only will it enhance your credentials as an honest-to-goodness public servant, it will also be good for your country.”