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Constitutional Council Provides No Clarity Over Declaration of ‘State of Emergency’

FILE PHOTO: 125 Lawmakers from the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) take part in the first plenary session presided by King Norodom Sihamoni at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, September 5, 2018. (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)

A Constitutional Council spokesperson said the body did not consider whether an acting head of state can declare a state of emergency based on the draft law, adding that there was no request to clarify this discrepancy.

A host of ruling party officials have rushed to claim that the acting head of state can in fact enact a state of emergency using the new law, even though Hun Sen a few weeks ago said he was of the view only the King can declare an emergency, asking the Constitutional Council to provide a clarification.

The draft law was passed by the Constitutional Council on Monday without any changes. The council said the law was in line with Article 22 of the Constitution that enables the King to declare a state of emergency, after reaching consensus with the Prime Minister and Presidents of the Senate and National Assembly.

Taing Ratana, secretary-general at the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, said the King, National Assembly or Senate had not made any requests for clarifications, such as whether the acting head of state can declare an emergency. So, no deliberation was conducted on that topic, he said.

“So, the Constitutional Council was asked to check [its constitutionality], not for interpretation,” he said.

The lack of clarity over this key facet of the law was critical because the King and Queen Mother are in China for medical checks. As is routine, the King does assign the Senate President as acting head of state to perform routine duties, including promulgating laws, though it was unclear if this extended to powers to declare an emergency.

The law has received widespread backlash for its potential to severely curtail fundamental freedoms and rights, such as freedoms of movement, free expressions, association, and assembly.

Ruling party lawmaker Chheang Vun said it was clear that the King delegates his authority to the acting head of state, allowing the latter to declare an emergency.

"When the King is busy, we have appointed an acting head of state, and the acting head of state will do everything on behalf of the King,” he said.

Chheang Vun is referring to constitutionally-granted powers that allow the King to assign an acting head of state when he is seriously ill.

Senate spokesperson Mam Bunneang also pointed to this article of the constitution and said the delegation of power to the acting head of state encompassed the right to declare an emergency.

“In the constitution and the law, they cannot wait for only the King, either because he is sick or he is visiting overseas. So, [the King] will grant a letter of authorization to the acting head of state,” said Mam Bunneang, who is also a Cambodian People’s Party senator.

As per the promulgation process, the draft law was sent back to the National Assembly, whose spokesperson Leng Penglong said it had then been forwarded to the Council of Ministers, which would ask the acting head of state, Senate President Say Chhum, to promulgate it.