Chea Sim, president of Cambodia’s ruling party and president of the Senate, died at his home in Phnom Penh on Monday after years of deteriorating health, an official said. He was 82.
Yim Leang, chief of Chea Sim’s personal bodyguard unit, confirmed the death and said the senior politician’s body was being kept at home in preparation for a traditional funeral, but did not provide further details on the cause of death.
“Chea Sim was not only the CCP’s (Cambodia People’s Party's) leader but one of the country’s leaders,” said CPP spokesman Chhim Phal Virum. He added that he had no information about the funeral services.
Chea Sim suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic ailments, the Associated Press reported.
Long Demanche, a Phnom Penh city hall spokesman, said the politician would be cremated in the Cambodian capital with a ceremony similar to one for a head of state, although a date had yet to be set.
Yim Sovann, spokesman of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), expressed his condolences, saying the country had lost a good politician who dedicated his life to it.
“We are very sad about his death,” he said, adding that younger leaders would continue his work.
Political analyst Sok Touch said with Chea Sim’s passing, Cambodia lost a most mature politician who resolved many national controversial issues.
“He was a politician who didn’t leave behind a bad legacy,” he said. “We are sad to lose this hero. He served the people and the country.”
From revolutionary to senior politician
Chea Sim was born in 1932 in southeast Cambodia’s Svay Rieng province where he studied at a Buddhist temple, according to an article in The Cambodia Daily.
He joined Cambodia’s revolutionary movement against colonial France in the early 1950s and was recruited into the communist Khmer People’s Revolutionary Party in 1959.
Like prime Minister Hun Sen, who was 20 years younger, he was a military commander in the Khmer Rouge when it seized power in 1975 after a civil war.
Chea Sim fled to Vietnam in 1978 and helped establish a Vietnam-backed faction that toppled Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot the following year.
He served as president of the National Assembly (parliament) from 1981 to 1998, and vice president from June to October 1993.
Chea Sim became the first president of the reformed CPP in 1991 and assumed his position as leader of the Senate in 1999.
Although Chea Sim and Hun Sen were political allies, they clashed in the 1990s when the elder politician led a ruling party faction that tentatively challenged the prime minister's grip on power, according to the Associated Press report.
In 2004, they were at odds with each other again when Chea Sim did not back a constitutional change allowing an opposition party to join the CPP in a coalition government.
Hun Sen said in April that he would assume Chea Sim’s position as CPP president in the event that the politician died.
“We wish Samdech [honorific] Chea Sim to be in good health and live a long life even if he cannot work, and he will be president of the CPP and Senate [as long as he lives],” Hun Sen said at the time, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
Reported by Yeang Socheameta for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.