Political Commentators, NGO Slam Cambodia’s Electoral Reform Deal

cambodia-sar-kheng-sam-rainsy-meeting-feb28-2015.jpg Minister of Interior Sar Kheng (L) and CNRP president Sam Rainsy (R) address reporters after their meeting at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Feb 28, 2015.

Cambodian political commentators and a civil society group have criticized a deal between the ruling and opposition parties which finalized a draft national electoral reform law, as being nontransparent and only serving the two parties themselves.

Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, who is a member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), met with Sam Rainsy, president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), for four hours on Saturday at the National Assembly (parliament) to hammer out the remaining points of disagreement between the parties’ working groups over the draft electoral reform law.

They agreed to add two seats to the 123-seat National Assembly for the next national election, reduce official campaign periods from 30 days to 21, with four days for public rallies, and ban nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from “insulting” political parties during campaigns.

The parties did not publicly release complete details of the negotiations or the draft law.

Social researcher and political commentator Kem Ley criticized the deal, saying the new draft election law only benefited the two main parties, and blamed the two politicians for concealing information about their discussions.

“They are treating national interest as their own,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“They don't have any transparency toward the public’s interest. The consequence is that there will be more problems in the next elections that will lead the country into chaos.”

The new election law will be applied to the 2017 commune elections and 2018 national elections to select members of the National Assembly and determine whether incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen will serve a fifth term in office.

Sok Touch, another political commentator, agreed that the draft electoral law only served the two parties, and urged them to unveil the full law as soon as possible.

“Sooner or later people will realize the truth,” he said. “There is nothing that can be hidden forever.”

Both Sam Rainsy and Sar Kheng said they would hold a national workshop to discuss the draft law before submitting it to parliament for approval.

CNRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann said the parties were keeping other details of the agreement for consultation during the workshop, according to The Phnom Penh Post.

‘A historic day’

With the agreement, the parties managed to deflect a threat from Hun Sen to take disagreement over the law to the floor of parliament, according to The Phnom Penh Post.

Speaking to reporters after the talks, Sam Rainsy called the meeting "a historic day in which Cambodia had unity.”

But they declined to take questions from the media, and instead referred them to an official statement.

Koul Panha, executive director of the civil society group Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel), told The Phnom Penh Post that the clause restricting NGOs was a “double standard” and criticized the secrecy surrounding the drafting of the law.

“Why do they require civil society organizations to be absolutely neutral while businesses can finance political parties without limit?” he was quoted as saying.

“[NGOs] should not be absolutely neutral. They should be encouraged to do advocacy.”

Last Dec. 1, the CCP and CNRP completed a draft law on electoral reform, but remained at odds on how to establish a secretariat to manage the National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s polls.

Electoral reforms were a key part of a July 22, 2014, deal that saw elected opposition lawmakers return to parliament following a 10-month boycott protesting the results of disputed national elections a year earlier in which the NEC declared the CPP victorious.

Under the deal, the new NEC was to consist of nine members—four from each party and one neutral member to serve as tiebreaker.

Saturday’s agreement was the final step before the National Assembly’s adoption of the law governing the formation and functioning of the NEC, the official statement said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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