The proposed new Senate - potentially a vitally important body to be headed by CPP
President Chea Sim which will oversee the National Assembly - has drawn flack from
political activists who say it is expensive, unconstitutional and is being foisted
on the people.
Dr Lao Mong Hay, director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, has urged that the
proposal be scrapped, saying it is a major change to the constitution that has not
had the approval of the people. "An amendment to change the constitution is
a serious alteration of the collective will of the people as expressed in the 1993
elections and as enshrined in the present constitution," he said in a statement.
"During the last election campaign no party even hinted at any constitutional
amendment least of all in order to create a Senate."
He added there was also the matter of cost. "The creation and functioning of
the proposed Senate entails an additional heavy burden on the nation which is by
no means rich."
A group of prominent Cambodians involved in human rights and NGOs have also urged
a rethink of the Senate proposal.
In an open letter Khmers working for the Center for Social Development, Licardo,
Adhoc and other rights and democracy groups suggested that more public debate take
place on the issue.
"We recommend a series of public hearings be held to discuss the proposed changes,
with input from national and international constitutional experts and respected Cambodian
elder statesmen such as Samdech Son Sann, H.E. Chao Sen Kosal, H.E. Pong Peng Cheng
and H.E. Sokam Khoy," the groups said.
The Senate is not a new idea. Like many things in Cambodia the idea of a Senate is
French in origin. The Cambodian constitution adopted many provisions and systems
from the French model.
One of these was the upper house, or Council of the Kingdom as it was known.
The body comprised of both appointed and elected members who had to be of at least
40 years of age. Its primary role was to review legislation passed to it by the National
If it proposed amendments to the laws they were then sent back to the Assembly for
The effectiveness or efficiency of such a system prior to 1970 is hard to assess.
During that time Prince Sihanouk effectively ran the country by decree.
There appears to be no examples of the Council of Kingdom at any stage rejecting
But even after Lon Nol seized power in 1970 the situation appears to have remained
exactly the same.
Chang Song, a minister of information during the Lon Nol regime said he could not
even remember who was in the Senate let alone what they ever did.
After saying that he thumbed through a history book, found a picture of the Senate
in 1972, shook his head and said he thought they were all dead.
Constitutional Council president Chan Sok said he did not think that the Senate functioned
during the Lon Nol regime but he was aware of its role.
"The Senate is the same as the National Assembly in approving and amending laws,"
"After approving the law the Assembly sends it to the Senate.
Former Assembly head Chao Sen Kosal Chhum confirmed that during Sihanouk's leadership
before 1970 there was a Senate called the Council of the Kingdom, however they had
The current proposal for the Senate follows the previous models and it is unclear
if its role is anything other than a vehicle for creating more titles and positions
in an act of political expediency.
A recently-circulated annex to the Constitution for the establishment of the Senate
- the Senate has the duty to facilitate work between the government and National
- examine all laws passed by the National Assembly;
- the chief of the senators is the second highest official in the Kingdom;
- the chief and two deputy chiefs are members of the council of Royal Assets;
- the Head of State in the absence of the King is the head of the Senate;
- constitutional amendment to create the Senate must be composed by legal experts
from both parties;
- for the first term all members to be appointed by the King.
Members of minor political parties who missed out on winning a seat during the last
election are demanding representation on the Senate.
Khmer Citizens Party president Nguon Soeur said he represented a committee the 25
unsuccessful parties and would be lobbying for representation in the Senate.
The King has rejected a suggestion by political leaders that he appoint the Senate
In a letter to Chea Sim, Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh and Tol Lah the King said that
he would prefer the majority of the Senate to be appointed by the National Assembly.
"For point A on the Senate that ëfor the first term of the Senate all members
shall be appointed by the King' I would like to request the three Samdechs and His
Excellency follow the example of the first kingdom that the King appoints only two
members of the Senate. As for the other members I would like the Royal government
and National Assembly to hold a meeting to reach consensus in choosing candidates
to members of the Senate for this first term," he said.