AS the Election Law is set to return to the National Assembly for changes, the Minister
of Justice has suggested parts of the law give too great a workload to the as-yet
unformed Constitutional Council.
"The electoral law says that all disputes related to elections should be sent
to the Constitutional Council. It can't be done like that," Chem Snguon said
in a Jan 10 interview. "The council has a more precise mandate. It is to judge
the validity of elections overall or in specific provinces."
He complained that the electoral law - which also charges the council with reviewing
and ruling on disputes related to voter and candidate registration - is unrealistic.
Snguon said there were certain to be "hundreds" of minor disputes and problems
to be resolved during the election, which he suggested would be better dealt with
by local election officials.
The Constitutional Council - the independent body charged with judging the constitutionality
of all the laws passed in Cambodia - has never met and most likely will not form
any time soon.
Court of Appeals General Prosecutor Henrot Raken said the council is unlikely to
be convened within the next three months as six of the nine seats on the constitutional
body remain unfilled and the Assembly must still pass a draft law on the operation
of the body.
King Norodom Sihanouk, charged with appointing three representatives, named three
elder Cambodian statesmen to the council in 1993 - soon after its creation in the
One of the nominees, Nhiek Tioulong, has since died. After replacing Tioulong, the
three nominees currently proposed by the King are Son Sann, 86, Chausen Cocsal Chhum,
92, and the 81-year-old Pung Peng Cheng.
Three of the other vacant seats are to be filled by the National Assembly and the
remaining three by the Supreme Council of Magistracy, another key legal body which
only met for the first time last month. It is unclear when the seats may be filled.
"I don't know if we have the time for the Constitutional Council to look at
the electoral law [or other laws]," Chem Snguon said, asserting that the council
is unlikely to be able to decide on much more than the overall validity of the elections.
A Western legal observer agreed that the Minister was correct in warning that the
council, when eventually formed, could be weighed down by a huge workload.
But he added that, firstly, "that is all the more reason for the council to
meet as soon as possible", and secondly, the issue should have been addressed
when the electoral law was debated by the Assembly last month. The law should not
be overridden by any arbitrary decisions by the government, he said.