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Senators speak

Senators speak

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

internal rules.

"[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

and lectures.

"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!


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