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.