First Council Hearing Upholds NEC Ruling

In its first-ever hearing on Wed­nesday, the Constitutional Coun­cil ruled to uphold the National Election Committee’s decision to exclude the Vongkot Khemarak Mohanokor party from this month’s general election.

Wednesday’s session brings to an end the deadlock in the formation and functioning of the beleaguered Council after five years of political bickering over its composition. Controversy still remains, however, over the legality of the process that formed it.

Seven of the Council’s nine members attended the inaugural hearing at Chamkarmon Palace to hear cases presented by representatives of the political party and of the NEC.

Absent from the proceedings was the Council’s oldest member, 93-year-old Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum, who had to leave a meeting of the body earlier in the day because of ill health. Son Sann, the only appointee who has de­clined to be sworn into the Coun­cil, was also absent. He has re­fused to take an active role in the proceedings until its composition is changed to exclude those he regards as “illegal” appointees.

The NEC representative told the Council the Vongkot Khe­marak Mohanokor party had been refused registration be­cause it had failed to submit paperwork in time for the May 7 deadline.

The representative told the Council that the NEC had sent letters to all prospective parties to warn them of the deadline.

Party President Phan Sina protested to the panel that he had never received the letter, and argued that he had been misled by newspaper reports of a delay in the registration date.

After an hour’s hearing, the seven members retired to deliberate on the case and emerged five minutes later to deliver their verdict. Council President Chan Sok read the verdict supporting the NEC’s decision.

“The party submitted sufficient paperwork to the NEC, but ac­cording to the rule of law, it was too late,” he announced.

Speaking after the hearing, Phan Sina declined to take issue with the ruling. “I don’t want the first hearing in the history of the Council to have a problem with my party.” But he said he plan­ned to pay a “courtesy call” to King Norodom Sihanouk to ask him, “Is there any justice in this country?”

Say Bory, the council’s last appointee and previously one of its most persistent critics, ex­pressed satisfaction with the way the proceedings went.

“We were in a good atmosphere, it was very serious,” he said later Wednesday. “So now I am more and more optimistic about the Council.”

No date was set for the Coun­cil’s next hearing, despite members’ admissions that “many” cases remain to be heard. Op­position leaders have complained there is insufficient time left for the Council to rule on all pre-election disputes before the polls.

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