Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Council set up, but nowhere to go

Council set up, but nowhere to go

Council set up, but nowhere to go

THE National Assembly's 79-7 vote for approval of the Constitutional Council law

March 19 is just the first in a series of time-consuming hurdles before the Council

can actually meet.

The Council's continued absence has sparked opposition calls for the election to

be delayed beyond July 26.

The Council is supposed to rule on electoral conflicts and the constitutionality

of the nation's laws - something the government has found hard to swallow, according

to Justice Minister Chem Snguon.

Snguon told the Post: "The Assembly members voted for the Council to resolve

the disputes of political parties at the Interior Ministry [even though] the government

did not agree with this idea because the Constitutional Council should only be competent

to deal with disputes directly relating to elections."

If political party disputes had been left to the Interior Ministry, they would have

been heard in the court system, which is widely believed to be under CPP control.

Snguon complained that the wider mandate given to the Council will allow political

parties to use disputes as a pretext to call for delaying elections, by complaining

that the Council's workload is too heavy.

As it stands, the Council has no autonomous budget, no internal rules and only three

of its nine members have been named.

The law leaves the Council's budget in government hands. "The budget is far

from independent as it is to be set by the state. This is a crucial issue. The Constitutional

Council must be [financially] autonomous and independent," opposition Assembly

member Om Radsady said.

The law also avoids detailing the internal workings of the Council, leaving that

to the Council of Ministers - which is widely considered to be favorable to the CPP.

Snguon defended the decisions, explaining that the law could not detail everything

and still be finished in a timely fashion.

Opposition politicians suggested that the Council of Ministers will be able to manipulate

the functioning of the council to its liking, as they claim has been done with the

National Election Commission.

Opposition leaders are demanding changes in the Constitutional Council law to make

decisions on a two-thirds vote rather than the simple majority, which observers expect

the CPP to control.

"Its decisions are based on a simple majority vote, meaning that power resides

in the hands of the few," Radsady said. "The Constitutional Council becomes

another National Election Commission [stacked by the CPP]."

Opposition politician Sam Rainsy, upon returning from a March 24 meeting with ousted

first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh in Bangkok, said he and Ranariddh agreed

that elections should be delayed until October or November while such issues are

remedied.

As for the actual startup of the Council, it appears unlikely to take place any time

soon. While its inaugural law - which took four years to pass - awaits the signature

of the head of state, hardball politics is expected in the selection of its six remaining

members.

While King Sihanouk has chosen his three appointees, three more are each to be chosen

by the Assembly and the Supreme Council of Magistracy - another judicial body where

there has been rancor over the appointment of its members.

Assembly and magistracy sources say there are no signs of movement on the issue,

but that the Assembly is likely to choose from within its own ranks - a likely contentious

process as candidates can be nominated by only 12 Assembly members. While there is

talk of some "intramural lobbies within the CPP, no names are yet being bandied

around," according to an Assembly source.

The "King's Men" appointments have been criticized because of their advanced

ages: Son Sann is 86, Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum is 92, and Pung Peng Cheng is 81.

Son Sann, who recently returned from nearly a year in Paris where he was brushing

up on constitutional law, acknowledged the criticism of the men who are supposed

to fill a three-year, a six-year and a nine-year term.

"The King has named elders. I cannot say I am young... [but] I am ready to do

my part," he said.

The former prime minister said he hoped that the Assembly will chose members representative

of all parties, rather than a single dominant party that could taint the Council

and result in a loss of credibility for elections and the government.

"I have no preconceptions [over nominations]. They can decide among themselves.

I would hope they would chose one from each party. One from CPP, from Funcinpec and

from us. If not, it won't last. Everything must be done in the name of national reconciliation.

How do you expect a lasting peace without it?"

The three to be chosen by the Council of Magistracy also remain in limbo as that

council has only met sporadically since convening last December.

Critics believe the CPP-friendly members of that council are likely to show a CPP

bias in making its selections.

"They are ready to name all judges from one party, [but] there are also judges

from our party. Funcinpec and our party [must be represented] too," Son Sann

said.

Explaining that he has not been in touch with the King's other appointees since his

return, he added: "I hope we are able to do our proper work. We are waiting

to find out what to do...

"In principle, the Constitutional Council should look at and approve all texts

that affect elections. We will see if that is the case. I am waiting for them to

say what they want, what they say [they want]. I have learned."

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