New security measures at the National Assembly, which resumed Monday after three months’ recess, seemed to have angered some of the same lawmakers they were meant to protect.
As part of the initiative, intended to protect legislators from terrorists and brawls, metal detectors now cover the entrance, most legislators can no longer have bodyguards inside, and guards assigned to the Assembly cannot carry weapons.
An expensive X-ray machine that was part of the plan wasn’t there Monday—it was damaged by flooding—so guards checked every member’s briefcase.
That didn’t go over well with three lawmakers, the CPP’s Sok Sam Eng and Funcinpec’s Sok San and Kuoch Ky, who used “bad language,” one guard said.
Sok San later said he does not like having his briefcase searched and would rather put it through the X-ray machine, as planned.
“It is not appropriate to check the personal bags of lawmakers,” Sok Sam Eng said.
Not all lawmakers were put out by the new procedures. Influential CPP member Cheam Yeap said he didn’t mind being searched. “The parliamentarians should not use their rights to avoid being checked,” he said. “It is a security issue, and we all have to be involved.”
National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh opened the session with a speech praising the lawmakers’ work over the recess, from holding meetings to aiding flood victims.
The prince said he opened seven temples and schools and met with foreign visitors during his hiatus. Meanwhile, the Assembly took up a significant debate on a proposed four-article amendment to the penal code that would allow more civil servants to become judicial police officers. Officials such as commune chiefs, district governors and provincial governors would have the power to arrest and detain people for crimes.
In addition, judicial policemen could detain people suspected of serious crimes for up to 48 hours for questioning. If more time is needed to investigate, the proposal provides another 24 hours.
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said the amendment would address loopholes in the penal code and give police a better chance to catch criminals.
Sar Kheng said that in 1999, police arrested nearly 1,000 suspected criminals, only to see them released by the court because the suspects could no longer legally be detained.
“This is a weakness in the law, so we’re changing it for the better,” he said.
The amendment would protect human rights despite concerns to the contrary, the deputy premier said.
Opposition lawmakers responded that the amendment would only serve to put more power in the hands of officials.