The Constitutional Council ruled Monday that it has no authority to pass judgment on the National Election Committee’s behavior, dismissing a Funcinpec complaint because it criticized the NEC’s alleged CPP bias rather than specific election results or legal procedure.
Funcinpec lawyers, in a flurry of black legal robes, stormed out of the hearing, vowing not to return.
The long-awaited hearing by the Constitutional Council, the highest legal body assigned to judge the election process, was scheduled to consider the first of two Funcinpec complaints charging the NEC of bias toward the CPP and of carelessness.
“The Constitutional Council cannot punish the NEC,” Council President Bin Chhin said.
The National Assembly, not the Constitutional Council, is authorized to penalize the NEC and its members.
Tempers flared at the Senate complex as Bin Chhin sternly ordered Funcinpec lawyer Soung Narun not to speak until spoken to. But the party’s six-member legal team condemned the Council and the hearing.
“The Constitutional Council has formed their own regulations and hidden them,” Soung Narun said before leaving the hearing room.
He accused the nine-member Constitutional Council of scripting its own legal rules after Bin Chhin refused to provide documents verifying the NEC’s legal representatives and witnesses.
“I tell you later,” Bin Chhin said, indicating that he was not obligated to explain court procedures.
Constitutional Council member Son Soubert said Monday afternoon that the Council had not understood Funcinpec’s specific request.
Bin Chhin thought Soung Narun simply wanted a copy of the Council’s regulations, which were printed in the Constitutional Council handbook in 1998, Son Soubert said.
“Although I want to help [Funcinpec], I cannot help,” he said.
Funcinpec’s spokesman Kassie Neou, Deputy Secretary-General Serey Kosal and Senator Khieu Sorn, along with Sam Rainsy Party Senator Ou Bun Long, also left the courtroom with the Funcinpec lawyers.
The exodus sent whispers through the crowd, as Constitutional Council members were left looking at each other and members of the NEC.
NEC member Mean Satik said at the hearing that the NEC fully complied with the election law.
“The NEC has done a perfect job. The NEC is not biased,” he said.
Mean Satik later said the NEC would not present witnesses but would speak on behalf of the provincial and commune election committee officials because they belonged to the NEC.
This motion is a direct violation of the election law, according to the National Democratic Institute’s senior program manager, Channtha Muth.
“You cannot bring anyone who was not at the scene as a witness,” he said.
At a Funcinpec news conference Monday afternoon, Kassie Neou denied that the party abandoned the hearing to save itself from trying an ill-prepared case.
Funcinpec has been criticized by the Sam Rainsy Party and the Constitutional Council for waging vague, sweeping complaints.
“We file complaints not because we find excuses…but because we are fighting for justice,” said Kassie Neou, who is a former NEC member. “We challenge on principle. This is a real challenge to the system.”
He demanded that the NEC be completely restructured in the future and that the Constitutional Council be scrutinized for what he said is a close relationship to the NEC and the ruling party.
Ou Bun Long, who will help defend his party’s complaints during Wednesday’s scheduled hearing, said Funcinpec weakened its chances of a re-vote by tackling the system rather than individual mistakes.
But the Constitutional Council appeared ready to dismiss the case before it began, Ou Bun Long said.
“I’m angry with them because you don’t know if they’re going to let you speak,” he said, referring to Bin Chhin’s strong words and aggressive interruptions.
The Constitutional Council is scheduled to hear the second of Funcinpec’s two complaints today.