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Council 'too busy' for details

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

Constitution.

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.

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