Sam Rainsy Party officials have proposed that legislation be adopted allowing former Cambodian prime ministers immunity from prosecution for crimes committed while in office.
Alarmed by the Dec 30 execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, SRP lawmaker Keo Remy raised the possibility of a prime ministerial immunity in a written appeal to the Senate, National Assembly and the government Jan 2.
The goal of the proposed legislation is to help facilitate smooth regime change in Cambodia, he said in an interview.
“I want to pave the way for the young generation,” he said, adding that the lawsuits filed in recent months against former First-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh also sparked the idea.
Keo Remy said he would like the law to be retroactive, thus granting past and future premiers immunity for any crimes committed or that may have been committed.
Response to his idea has so far been mixed.
National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin said the ruling party would likely support Keo Remy’s idea if it were raised on the floor of the National Assembly.
“If the opposition party proposes it, it is good,” he said, adding that while in power, governments will inevitably make unspecified “mistakes.”
“Leading a country, one cannot satisfy everyone,” Heng Samrin said. “The only way one makes no mistakes is by doing nothing. The more one works, the more mistakes one makes,” he said.
SRP leader Sam Rainsy said he supported the spirit of Keo Remy’s proposal but said it was “premature.” He also advocated a more limited amnesty, which would not cover serious crimes like murder.
Sam Rainsy pointed to other long-standing regimes—notably that of Indonesian dictator Suharto—where leaders have been encouraged to cede power by guarantees, explicit or otherwise, that their life, liberty and material assets would remain intact after they step aside.
The right time to push for such legislation in Cambodia, Sam Rainsy said, would be when everyone realizes that the opposition is on the verge of taking power.
“Suppose Hun Sen has to step down for democratic reasons, he would not only lose power, he would lose impunity,” Sam Rainsy said.
“He cannot afford to lose…. Hun Sen will never accept giving up power,” he said, adding that it is important for the SRP to reassure current leaders that they will be able to “survive with some dignity” after leaving office.
Ok Socheat, an adviser to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, said a law granting former leaders of Cambodia immunity should only be passed in tandem with a law limiting terms in office for the prime minister.
But he added that he would welcome measures to help Cambodia move beyond its history of convulsive leadership change.
Cambodia, he said, has no history of graceful transition.
“In Cambodia, they always…kill each other,” he said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said an amnesty for national leaders was unnecessary in a democracy like Cambodia.
“An election is a transition of power,” he said.
“If you win, you become prime minister. If you lose, you are the opposition party.”
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun and Lor Chandara)