Legal Body’s ‘Dean’ Could Delay First Session

Seven of the Constitutional Council’s nine appointees were sworn in Tuesday, but two of the supreme legal body’s two most senior members were absent. 

Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum, at 93 years old the dean of the Council, failed to attend the Royal Palace for the ceremony, as did one other royal appointee, Son Sann.

But confusion reigned over the reasons behind the dean’s non-appearance and his anticipated absence at the first meeting of the Council, scheduled for this morning. The Council is to have the final say in all disputes arising from the elections, as well as ruling on the constitutionality of all laws.

A faxed statement bearing Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum’s signature, released Tuesday morning, announced his intention to boycott today’s scheduled meeting as he had not personally convened it, as required by law.

“According to [the law] the first meeting of the Council is to be convened by the oldest member, the dean,” said the statement. “I have not convened this June 3 meeting, and will not convene any meeting at least until sufficient members are appointed legally to the Council.”

Opposition politician Tioulong Saumura said Tuesday she had seen the nonagenarian dean board a Royal Air Cambodge flight for Bangkok at noon that day, five hours before the ceremony began.

A guard at Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum’s house at 9:15 pm Tues­day confirmed his boss was not at home, saying he had left “as usual” in the late morning without revealing where he was go­ing, and had not returned since.

But an aide to Chau Sen Coscal Chhum, contacted earlier Tues­day, blamed ill-health for his boss’s failure to make the ceremony, and said it would also prevent him from attending the meeting.

Furthermore, the aide claimed, it was the dean himself who signed a letter calling for today’s meeting—a claim supported by Council member Top Sam, who said he received a copy, but contradicted by Tuesday’s statement bearing Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum’s signature.

Opposition politician Sam Rainsy confirmed that his office had forwarded Tuesday’s statement to media outlets, saying they had received it from Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum.

In any case, it now appears that the Constitutional Council will meet today without the dean, despite the legal provision requiring his presence.

Son Sann, a second appointee of the King’s, was unavailable for comment on why he failed to attend the ceremony. He has ex­pressed reservations about the Council’s legality.

Pung Peng Cheng, who was sworn in Tuesday, is the third royal appointee to the Council, and has yet to make any public statement about the controversy. But along with Son Sann, his signature was also absent from a letter sent by Council members Monday to Chau Sen Cocsal Chhum, calling for the dean to convene the body.

Opposition figures have complained that the Council is weighted heavily in the CPP’s favor, with the remaining six members all said to be aligned with the party.

But with a required quorum of seven Council members, one royal appointee must attend today’s meeting if it is to be legally convened.

(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)

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