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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King's advisor bemoans lack of Constitutional Council

King's advisor bemoans lack of Constitutional Council

O NE of the King's most respected and long-term advisors has expressed disappointment

that every debate, law and action of the National Assembly has been unconstitutional.

Samdech Chakrei Nhiek Tioulong - a close Royal confidante for the past 51 years -

spoke to the Post in a rare interview shortly after the second anniversary of the

signing of the Constitution.

Nhiek Tioulong is one of three Royal representatives to the Constitutional Council

- the supreme body charged with making sure all government and court decisions comply

with the Constitution.

However, the Council's six other members (three from the Assembly and three from

the court) have still not been chosen.

Neither has the law been passed to create the Council.

"Legally, everything has been blocked," Nhiek Tioulong said.

"For example, the Assembly's internal rules should have been approved by the

Constitutional Council.

"But because the Council does not exist, the internal rules have not been approved...

so all the functioning of the National Assembly have been illegal... the deliberations,

debates, even the laws, are, if not illegal, unconstitutional."

Nhiek Tioulong was the first Khmer to govern Phnom Penh after French rule; he was

Royal inspector of political affairs, and Minister of National Education and later

Finance during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum; he met Charles de Gaulle in France with

King Sihanouk and later claimed Battambang back from Thailand on behalf of His Majesty.

He was commander-in-chief of the armed forces till 1969. More recently, First Prime

Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh asked him to be an advisor to the Royal army (RCAF)

and the King asked him to be the RCAF's supreme advisor. He was appointed the supreme

advisor to the Royal Palace, before his current job - at aged 88 - on the Council.

Nhiek Tioulong is the father of Saumura Tioulong, who recently resigned as deputy

governor of the National Bank, and father-in-law of Sam Rainsy.

"It is not just the Constitutional Council," he said. The Supreme Council

of Magistracy - the top independent judicial review body - is not functioning, neither

is there a Supreme Council of National Defense "and that should be chaired by

the King also," he said.

"Provincial administrations, and the administration of cities, towns and even

communes should be governed by laws that have not yet been adopted," Nhiek Tioulong

said.

"From a legal point of view, the whole legal framework for the Cambodian State

has not yet been put in place," he said.

The King has been advised by his Council representatives of the existing problems

"but the King knows everything," he said.

"Of course I am disappointed, but because I am personally involved I did not

speak out... His Majesty knows about the Council.

"When Sam Rainsy was expelled by the National Assembly, (Assembly chairman)

Chea Sim wrote to him saying he could always appeal to the Constitutional Council.

The King wrote a note on that letter saying 'when is the Council going to be created?',"

he said.

King Sihanouk "knows everything but because he is the Constitutional Monarch

he leaves responsibility to the government... he doesn't want to get involved in

government matters to avoid criticisms [that] he wants to take power," he said.

When asked whether the King might do "something" if he felt that the government

was not honoring its Constitutional responsibilities, Nhiek Tioulong said: "I

hope so, but two years ago he said in Beijing that if things went wrong maybe he

would accept to take power one day.

"Now I see he contents himself to rule as Constitutional Monarch, exactly like

the Queen of England," he said.

When asked whether King Sihanouk might one day act not as the Queen of England, but

as the old King of Cambodia, he said: "I hope so personally, but I think the

King is aging, [now] is different than when he was King during the independence [moves]

from France."

Nhiek Tioulong said he thought the Constitutional Council was a key point. Not only

government leaders and MPs, but the whole population could approach the Council on

violations of the Constitution "and presently there are violations everyday".

The "food before democracy" debate put forward by Ranariddh was "not

one I have to judge... that is the opinion of the Prime Minister but it is debatable,"

he said.

"I limit my comments to the Constitution... when people wanted it they adopted

it very hastily. [But now] no-one cares about the Constitution, and no-one cares

to implement it."

He said of course people had to be taken care of before a Constitution "but

the population is already being helped... international organizations are here".

"People hastily built a house, but they forget to build a roof to protect it

from the rain, so the house cannot be inhabited."

"I have served my country since I was 21... I have personally done my duty...

My time is done now, it's the young people who have to start working," he said.

"From a legal technical point of view I can still help from the inside."

Cambodia had suffered beyond imagination; civil war and foreign occupations had totally

destroyed all the structures of the former Sangkum Reastr Niyum. "Since the

King arrived the country has started to relaunch something from nothing."

"We lack everything. Forests are being pillaged and people are starving, they

go naked; the government lacks competent technicians, so we have to go from there.

[But] I wonder about the survival of the Cambodian nation.

"If the King was 40 years old of course he could work more, but he is 73 and

sick."

The King "would be totally able to save the country... during the Indochinese

War the conditions in the country were worse than now," he said.

"The King had just acceded to the throne and through his efforts we obtained

independence from France and he put Cambodia back on its feet.

"Unfortunately the crazy Cambodians have put Cambodia back to zero," Nhiek

Tioulong said.

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