After two failed attempts to convene, the Constitutional Council met for the first time Monday and elected former Supreme Court president Chan Sok as its president for the next three years.
Chan Sok beat fellow council member Bin Chhin five votes to one to take the presidency at a meeting attended by seven of the body’s nine members. One member abstained in the secret ballot.
The two oldest members of the council, Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum and Son Sann, chose to miss the meeting having made public their reservations about the council’s legitimacy.
But Chan Sok hailed the success of the council in holding the vote despite the boycott of two out of the three royal appointees.
“The past problem and obstacle has been solved this morning,” he told reporters as he emerged from the meeting. “For the other two members, it is up to them, but we have done it correctly. According to the law, we have the seven members required to make up a quorum.”
Monday’s meeting brings to an end a four-year delay in the establishment of this key legal body, which is to act as the final arbiter in electoral disputes and to rule on the constitutionality of laws.
But the meeting of the council has not come quickly enough for some critics, who say it should have been up and running two months before the July 26 election in order to fulfill its duties. In addition, they have complained that the body is unfairly weighted in favor of the CPP, with six of nine appointees affiliated with the powerful ruling party.
Monday’s meeting was convened by Pung Peng Cheng, 81, the third-oldest member of the council and the only royal appointee to attend. He, however, has announced his intention to resign from the council as soon as King Norodom Sihanouk is able to appoint a replacement.
A spokesman for Son Sann, however, said Sunday that Pung Peng Cheng could not legally convene the meeting, echoing the claim of council dean Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum. The 92-year-old dean, who is out of the country, has said only Son Sann, at 86 the second-oldest member, can convene a meeting in his absence.
Critics have questioned the legitimacy of several appointments, including the new president himself. Chan Sok was still a member of the Supreme Council of Magistracy when the body selected its three appointees to the Constitutional Council, meaning that he would have been able to vote himself onto the supreme appeals body.
The three members selected by a National Assembly vote have also attracted their share of controversy, amid accusations they do not possess the academic qualifications required by law for council membership.
The law states members must have a “diploma of superior studies” in law, administration, diplomacy or economy.
In a letter to National Assembly President Chea Sim last week, Bar Association President Say Bory suggested the three make their degree certificates public to satisfy critics.
Assembly appointee Bin Chhin on Monday dismissed the suggestion, saying that he had already proved his qualifications to the parliament’s standing committee.