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Featherweight touch on laws

Vaunted as a crucial component of democratic development in the runup to last year's

elections, the Constitutional Council has ruled on only two laws since its formation

a year ago, according to its President, Chan Sok.

The Council - the nation's highest legal body - examined the new Senate's internal

regulations when it was formed in March of this year, and last month declared a draft

law mandating a female Minister of Women's and Veteran's Affairs unconstitutional.

Sok said the Council has no other pending business, as nothing has been forwarded

to it.

The 1993 Constitution states that "the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly

and various organizational laws shall be forwarded to the Constitutional Council

before their promulgation".

Some legal experts have questioned whether any such laws passed since the Constitution

was written are technically in force until the Council examines them.

However, Sok said the Council would not examine laws passed before the Council's

inception without a request. "The Constitutional Council is not allowed to register

a complaint by itself," he said. "When there is a proposal to examine [law],

the Council examines it. Otherwise, it won't examine all the laws, because that would

be a lot of laws."

One case that would appear to have been pending for a long time is that of MP Sam

Rainsy. He was expelled from the National Assembly in 1995 and sent a letter to the

dean of the Council in May 1998, asking that his case be examined once the Council

was functioning.

"When I registered my complaint to the President of the National Assembly, Samdech

Chea Sim, at the time of my expulsion, he suggested that I should address my case

to the [then non-existent] Constitutional Council," Rainsy wrote.

"For almost three years, to follow that suggestion has been a logical impossibility.

Now that there is a chance that the issue of my expulsion could be addressed in accordance

with the Constitution, I ask you to introduce this case as soon as you feel it is

legally appropriate."

Asked about Rainsy's year-old complaint, Chan Sok said it did not exist, then was

reminded by an aide.

"The Sam Rainsy case is personal," he said. "If Sam Rainsy could find

one-tenth of the Assembly [to support him], he could file a complaint ... according

to the law Sam Rainsy cannot file the complaint personally."

The law on the Constitutional Council requires one-tenth of the Assembly's support

for election disputes but does not mention the procedure for contesting an expulsion.

The Council was criticized during its formation in June 1998. Allegations of illegality

in some appointments and political stacking in favor of the Cambodian People's Party

were leveled by opposition parties, legal experts, and former members of the Council

itself - several of whom quit over the alleged irregularities.

Critics claimed to be vindicated when, after the July 1998 election, the opposition

Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy parties attempted to register poll-related appeals with

the Council. The appeals were rejected as too late, despite the initial complaints

never being definitively ruled on by the National Election Commission.

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