Legal Questions Raised About Vote Approval

Analysts said Wednesday Fun­cinpec Deputy Secretary-General Nhiek Bun Chhay may have breached constitutional protocol when he authorized a controversial provision to the Con­stitution Tuesday, assuming the role of acting Head of State Chea Sim.

The legality of Nhiek Bun Chhay’s signature on the so-called “package vote” measure is “very questionable,” said Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development.

Following the abrupt departure Tuesday of CPP and Senate President Chea Sim, Nhiek Bun Chhay signed off on the package vote measure, which will allow the National Assembly when it meets today to simultaneously approve new government and Assembly leadership positions.

Some observers and opposition officials say that, legally, the move should have first been endorsed by King Norodom Sihanouk.

As the Senate’s second deputy vice president, Nhiek Bun Chhay is fourth in line to act in place of King Sihanouk, the country’s head of state, who is currently residing in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Under the Constitution, the Senate president assumes the role of acting head of state when the King cannot perform his normal duties.

In the Constitutional hierarchy, the first deputy president of the Senate—Prince Sisowath Chivan Monirak—would take the Senate president’s place, followed by the first deputy president of the Assembly, and then Nhiek Bun Chhay.

Prince Chivan Monirak, however, is in the US, according to Funcinpec officials, and the new first deputy president of the Assembly has not been appointed.

The Constitution states “the King may have the right to delegate the signing power…through a royal message of delegation of authority.”

The King issued such a message to Chea Sim on Saturday, leaving the signing of the package vote measure to Chea Sim’s “conscience.” That delegation of au­thority, some say, cannot be transferred to Nhiek Bun Chhay.

“Nhiek Bun Chhay must ask the advice from the King before he signs,” said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, adding that such a violation could have serious ramifications later.

“There will be a lot of credibility issues with the new government,” he said. “Nobody can violate the Constitution.”

Nhiek Bun Chhay, however, said Wednesday he did not violate the law, saying: “It is right for me to sign the addition to the Constitution.”

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he will complain to the Constitutional Council over the apparent breach of protocol.

“We will not recognize this new government,” he said Wednes­day. “Nhiek Bun Chhay was totally illegal.”

 

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