Cambodia's ruling and opposition parties agreed Monday to nominate a top local human rights campaigner as a key member of a national election body in a significant move following an agreement on electoral reforms that broke a one-year political deadlock, officials said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to a proposal by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) that prominent rights group Licadho chief Pung Chhiv Kek be the ninth member of the new National Election Committee (NEC).
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the CNRP also agreed to a set of conditions that she had laid out in a bid to ensure that the election panel operates independently from the government.
Pung Chhiv Kek told RFA's Khmer Service that the CPP late Monday informed her that it would agree to all her conditions for accepting the post, saying she wants to perform her duties in a "neutral" and "independent" manner.
Her acceptance of the post and Hun Sen's agreeing to her conditions give a big boost to the agreement reached last week between the prime minister and Sam Rainsy.
Under the pact, elected lawmakers from the CNRP agreed to end their nearly one-year boycott of parliament after Hun Sen accepted the party's proposal to revamp the government-appointed NEC.
The NEC, which is currently controlled by the CPP, had declared the ruling party the victor in the July 2013 general elections despite criticism that the polls had been rigged.
Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy had agreed in their pact that the election body will be revamped with four members each selected by the CPP and the CNRP, and the appointment of the ninth and final member by consensus between the rival parties.
In a letter to both parties, Pung Chhiv Kek said she would agree to become the ninth member if NEC members are given immunity from prosecution, guaranteed independent decision-making, given the right to recruit expert staff ,and allowed to operate autonomous budgets.
Sam Rainsy and deputy CNRP chief Kem Sokha had agreed to Pung Chhiv Kek's conditions in writing before the CPP gave the green light late Monday.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the human rights campaigner would be a great asset to the NEC as she had played an important role in campaigning for election reforms in Cambodia.
“The CNRP stance is to warmly welcome Dr. Pung for accepting the CNRP proposal to become a new member of the NEC [which is to be an independent and neutral body]," he said. "The CNRP fully agrees to Dr. Pung‘s preconditions."
Hun Sen confirmed to reporters at the National Assembly (parliament) building early Monday that the CPP and CNRP had agreed to the choice of the ninth member of the NEC.
All the NEC members will have to be endorsed by parliament with an absolute majority as part of the electoral reforms.
Kem Sokha said among CNRP's candidates for the NEC is Kuoy Bunroeun—a lawmaker who vacated his seat for Sam Rainsy, who was not able to contest the 2013 elections.
The National Assembly on Monday endorsed Sam Rainsy as a lawmaker following approval last week from the NEC.
Pung Chhiv Kek's Licadho group has been at the forefront of efforts to protect the civil, political, economic, and social rights of Cambodians.
She was living in exile in France in the 1980s when she arranged negotiations between Hun Sen and then-deposed King Norodom Sihanouk at the height of Cambodia's civil war.
The negotiations eventually led to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, which mandated a United Nations mission to Cambodia to supervise elections and resolve the long-standing conflict.
In the wake of the peace agreement, Pung Chhiv Kek and other Cambodians living abroad returned home.
In 1992, she founded the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, known by its French acronym Licadho—one of the first human rights organizations established in the new civil society made possible by the U.N. mission.
Reported by Van Vichar for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.