Ninety-three-year-old Constitutional Council dean Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum was sworn in Saturday as a member of the country’s supreme legislative appeals body, one month after he failed to show at the original ceremony.
Also taking the oath in the Royal Palace Throne Room was Cambodian Bar Association President Say Bory, appointed to the council late last month after the resignation of Pung Peng Cheng, one of King Norodom Sihanouk’s original three nominees for the post.
Still absent, however, was the final royal nominee Son Sann, who has declared that “in all conscience” he cannot be be sworn onto the controversial council, whose formation he has branded illegal.
For many, it was their first glimpse of Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum, who reportedly left the country last month rather than convene the council.
But the frail-looking nonagenarian was vague when asked to explain his volte-face, hinting only that “circumstances” had changed.
Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum said last week he had asked to be sworn into the council when he learned that Say Bory had accepted the vacant position. Say Bory, who has been one of the council’s most persistent public critics, vowed on his appointment to use his position to clean up the council’s image.
Speaking at his home the day after the ceremony, Say Bory, one of the King’s personal lawyers, said he could not turn down an appointment by the monarch, and he believes the King has a mission for him, albeit an unspoken one.
“I think the King wants to unblock the boycott and let the Constitutional Council function,” he said.
Say Bory said his appointment had been “a complete surprise.”
In fact, he learned of the appointment only when a copy of King Sihanouk’s proclamation was delivered to his house.
The King is said to have been frustrated by the past failure of the council to form as a result of boycotts by his own appointees.
Second Prime Minister Hun Sen flew to Siem Reap for a meeting with the King earlier this month at which the matter of the deadlocked council was discussed.
Shortly after that, Pung Peng Cheng announced he would convene the council in Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum’s absence, before retiring from the post.
The King subsequently appointed Say Bory as a replacement, despite his numerous public criticisms about the Council’s formation and functioning.
“[The King] has seen my critiques so he understands my ideas,” Say Bory said. “I can be very useful in the Constitutional Council to try to lead the members to respect the law,” he said.
“I think maybe they can become independent when they are completely members of the Constitutional Council. For example, Mr Chan Sok, former president of the Supreme Court, has a lot of experience judicially.”