Some believe the recent beating of two MPs at the National Assembly was an inside job, but even if not, the government needs to take an urgent look at its security
On October 26, while attempting to leave a session of the National Assembly, two of Cambodia’s democratically elected MPs were dragged out of their cars in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses and savagely beaten by a group of men apparently dispersing from a nearby CPP rally.
Since this was a blatant attack on the political system and its constitutional representatives, a high-level judicial police investigation was promptly called by the Minister of Interior. Investigations of assaults by competent professional officers are not always speedy; however, ample witnesses, video and photographic evidence make such assault investigation less difficult than usual.
Normally there would also be prompt high-level – from the prime minister down – widespread condemnation of such an event. However, possibly because of indirect involvement of the CPP, condemnation appeared belated and failed to stress the importance of defending the constitution as would be paramount in well–established democracies.
The key problem now exposed is the safety of the nation’s representatives including, or especially, those who serve as a “loyal opposition” at the very heart of the process – the National Assembly.
If the state cannot assure their safety in or near the assembly – or indeed across the nation – then the legitimacy of the present government will be gravely damaged. Such events are an uncanny echo to similar failures to protect the parliament in the 1960s and risk the dire consequences that followed.
I am sure the three soldiers who have since handed themselves in were encouraged to do so. Indeed, it was the best course of action for them. It was possibly a rehearsed event as well and the men involved may have colluded about the accounts they might offer for their involvement.
One might speculate further that this matter may resolve itself via the narrative of a self–incited, spontaneous act by some CPP followers or members who were upset about the comments and attitudes of the CNRP.
There has been speculation that the attack was planned and the National Assembly security and staff were complicit. However, even if this is not the case then a review of security at the Assembly – at the least – is needed urgently.
The failure of the police bodyguard detachment to intervene promptly reflects badly on the security arrangements and the capabilities of those officers and their leaders.
There is case for the security of the Assembly to be upgraded and if necessary a detachment of Military Police or units of similar capability deployed – who would operate directly under the command of a specifically accountable senior government leader assigned to the job.
These events have exposed laxity and possibly partiality in the security arrangements which have undermined the nation’s efforts to professionalise and improve its security agencies.
Comments by the CPP Assembly spokesperson about the Assembly remit not extending to adjacent public roads indicates a failure to understand that the Assembly “precinct” should normally include the means to enter and leave and is an extraordinary vulnerability that needs to be fixed urgently.
Police deployed to safeguard the Assembly clearly need to be able to provide security in all the relevant public areas adjacent the Assembly.
Roderic Broadhurst is a Professor of Criminology at ANU and a co-author of Violence and the Civilising Process in Cambodia.