On March 25, the 58 nominees to Cambodia's new Senate were officially sworn into
office. But who exactly are the senators, and how do they perceive their role in
the newest and most ambiguous component of the government? Samreth Sopha and
Phelim Kyne interviewed three senate nominees from the CPP, Funcinpec and
the Sam Rainsy Party. Photos by Heng Sinith.
CHANG SONG: "The senate will not be a potted plant."
Photo by Heng Sinith
Chang Song, a former university professor in the US was briefly the Minister of Information
for the Lon Nol regime.
Song joined Nol in exile in the US in 1975, becoming one of the founders of the Save
Cambodia Foundation along with Nol and Stephen Solarz in 1978.
In the mid-1990s Song was appointed an advisor to Chea Sim, who is now the President
of the Senate.
"I was chosen [as a senator] because people realize that I'm not so political.
I'm a technocrat.
"I wish for Cambodians what they would like me to do [as senator].
"When I learned I was appointed, I was thankful because it would allow me to
do what I want to do and have always done [which is] to alert the attention of the
world to the tragedy of Cambodia and to stimulate the Cambodian people to realize
that they could do more to help themselves.
"This will give me a [position] in society [so I won't be] just an unknown.
"In Cambodia it's difficult to be unknown and advocate social change.
"The Senate will give me the neccessary protection to do that.
"The Senate will not be a potted plant or an ornament.
"Suppose Hun Sen wanted a law passed that would 'chop off some heads'. . .
". . . it won't happen because [senators] will be resistant so he'll have to
change his position.
"[Hun Sen] is a very powerful, very smart man who doesn't want controversy and
opposition, [so] he will [have to] consult [the Senate] ahead of time [about contentious
"You can say anything is a waste of time, but the Senate is not because it's
made this [CPP/Funcinpec] coalition possible.
"The Senate is the result of the [September 1998] 'Summit of Siem Reap' that
made peace and reconciliation possible.
"In that way [the Senate] has already proved its worth."
MEN MALY: "It is not appropriate to consider the senate a waste of time and money." Photo by Heng Sinith
Men Maly is a senate nominee from Funcinpec party and one of eight women in the new
government body. Maly worked for the Tela Khmer oil company between 1965 and 1975
and served as deputy director of the finance department of the Ministry of Education
from 1979 to 1993.
"As I have been appointed to be one of the senators, I am willing to help the
country. We [senators] will decide on useful laws for the people and try to ensure
that the laws are enforced. Like the National Assembly, the senate is a legislative
body, so we have to push the executive body [of government] to implement laws that
will lead our country to become prosperous.
"I was nominated by the chairman of (Funcincpec) because of my awareness of
women's issues. I suggest that the government help educate all women because the
men are reluctant to enhance the lives of most women.
"The men have thought that women have no capacity [for learning], but in fact
I have seen that a number of the women have more ability than men. In some families,
the wives are the knowledgable people - they have got the ability, but their husbands
don't let them work.
"The husbands just leave their wives to take care of the children and the house.
I think that when the wife has ability the husband has to push her to work.
"It is not appropriate to consider the Senate as only a waste of time and money.
The Senate exists to foster peaceful agreements [of contentious issues]. Without
the Senate, there is the chance that [legislative] disagreements can lead to [violent]
"We have to try and make an effort so that next term there will be 20 women.
And the government has to push the women also like the minister of women's affairs,
H.E Sokhua has planned Neary Ratanak [precious gems - a campaign to recognize the
value of women].
"[On the role of women in the senate] I think that we have to collaborate with
the government, particularly with Sokhua.
"We should hold conferences in order to find solutions [for problems in] family,
in society, we have to improve everything.
"We should help to oversee the laws, and push the important laws for the people
so that they are immediately promulgated for the government's implementation."
OU BUN LONG: "If you are not present, you can't defend yourself."
Photo by Heng Sinith
Sam Rainsy Party Senate nominee Ou Bun Long had his first taste of public service
as a tax inspector for the Lon Nol regime. Long fled Cambodia as a refugee in 1981,
and eventually settled in Seattle, Washington where his work experience ranged from
employment counsellor for refugees to real estate agent. Long returned to Cambodia
in 1992 as President of the Khmer Buddhist Society. In 1998 he joined the Sam Rainsy
Party and served as the Vice-President of its election committee.
"When I first heard of my appointment I thought it was just to fill a position
and wasn't too interested. But I have in my mind that if I go [to the Senate], I'll
do my best to transform the Senate to serve the nation.
"Currently the Senate's role is not clear because the internal rules have not
yet been decided. The Senate is supposed to check the laws approved by the National
Assembly. The Senate is allowed one month to overrule the law [whereupon] it is sent
back to the National Assembly.
"I see my first duty as ensuring that the five suggestions of King Sihanouk
about the Senate's role - to defend human rights and democracy and also be like a
mediator between the government and the National Assembly - be adopted as the Senate's
"[Senators of other parties] have said no to this idea, suggesting instead that
the King's suggestions be placed on banners [in the Senate Hall], but slogans and
banners aren't law and aren't respected [as laws are].
"Other parties' [senators] keep silent about [a possible role for] the senate
coordinating between the National Assembly and the government [but] this is very
little considering [senators'] salary [48m riel p.a], which compared to that of government
employees is very, very high.
"[SRP] senators need to try to explain the role of senators in foreign countries.
It will also be neccessary for senators to undergo training [like] seminars, workshops
"When you're a senator your job is to check the law, so you need the skills
[to understand] technical problems.
"If some senators are just chosen from the military or [their political party's]
friends, it's very tough to accomplish the role of senator.
"[The SRP] are an opposition party and we're here to express our opinions. .
. not to obstruct.
"Just walking away [from the Senate] is not an option. If you are not present,
you can't defend yourself!