King Norodom Sihanouk says he did all he possibly could to help the three men fired from the CPP and the Senate more than a year ago—and continues to adamantly believe in the necessity of senatorial elections next year.
“I have already done my utmost to bring justice to the three [former] senators Chhang Song, Siphan Phay and Pou Savath,” the King wrote on Monday to Anders Johnsson, secretary-general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. “I can do no more.”
Then, in a postscript twice as long as the body of the letter, King Sihanouk forcefully reiterated his belief that “the Cambodian People …should be given the exclusive right to elect…Senators.”
The current Senate was created out of a political compromise following the 1998 elections and its members were appointed by the King in 1999. The Constitution calls for a second Senate term to be elected in 2004.
Last month, politicians began discussing canceling those elections for financial reasons—prompting the King to declare that he would refuse to approve the appointments of senators who were not elected. If Senate elections could not be held, it would be better, King Sihanouk said, to have no Senate at all.
“As for Messrs Chhang Song, Siphan Phay and Pou Savath, their ‘dismissability’ by their political party should not be surprising,” King Sihanouk wrote. “What must be protected in Cambodia is the sovereignty of the People, on whom depends the Senate, which must not remain a mere ‘tool’ of this or that party.”
The three were all sacked without notice from their party and positions in December 2001 after they deviated from the party line by inveighing against a proposed change in the penal code—a rare event in a legislative body widely seen as a mere rubber stamp.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union, a lawmakers’ group with more than 100 member nations including Cambodia, has several times issued resolutions concluding that their dismissal was illegal.
The union’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians ruled on the case yet again in Geneva last month, and called on the Cambodian government to take steps to “ensure that all members of Parliament may, without fear of retaliation, exercise the freedom of speech essential to the fulfillment of their mandate as representatives of the people.”
The committee also encouraged the three men to “take their case to court” and agreed to help the Senate draw up clearer bylaws “regarding revocation of the parliamentary mandate.”