The independent body that oversees Cambodia’s elections decided Monday to prohibit its nine members from participating in political and nongovernmental organization activities after addressing a complaint by the ruling political party about an opposition party committee member who attended a workers’ rally last week.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) issued a complaint about National Election Committee (NEC) member Rong Chhun, who was appointed by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), after he participated in an International Labor Day march on May 1, saying that his actions affected the neutrality of the body.
Rong Chhun had joined several thousand workers who marked the holiday in the capital Phnom Penh by calling on the Ministry of Labor to raise the minimum wage, improve working conditions, and drop a draft law restricting the work of NGOs and unions in the country.
During the three-hour, closed-door meeting, the members of the NEC, who took office last month, decided not to reprimand the former president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, but to remind him of the body’s neutrality, according to NEC spokesman Hang Puthea.
“The NEC president reminded all members to be vigilant and avoid public confusion that affects the NEC’s independence and neutrality,” said Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), who is the NEC’s ninth consensus member.
Rong Chhun, who has been critical of the government’s education and labor policies, said he stood by what he had done in the past for the sake of society and that he would respect the NEC’s internal regulations, as well as the election law which prohibits its members from getting involved in politics.
“We all must implement the law,” he said. “However, there is no article in the new election that prevents NEC members from being involved in social activities.”
Rong Chhun denied having breached any law and said that during their swearing-in ceremony, the NEC members vowed to uphold territorial integrity, human rights and social justice.
“We must implement what we vowed to do when we were sworn in,” he said. “I participated in the activities during my free time. I didn’t shout, I just monitored, so it didn’t affect the NEC’s independence.”
Code of ethics needed
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), criticized the NEC’s decision to hold a meeting about Rong Chhun’s participation in the workers’ rally.
He urged the NEC to adopt a code of ethics to comply with a new election law so that its members cannot render unjust interpretations of it.
He also urged the NEC to come up with a definition of members’ involvement in political activities.
“There must be a clear definition, because we can’t claim everything is a political activity,” Koul Panha said.
He also noted that there is no article in the new election law that prevents NEC members from getting involved in social activities.
The CPP and CNRP agreed to reform the NEC as part of a political deal last July that ended the opposition party’s 10-month boycott of parliament following disputed elections in July 2013 which kept the CPP in power amid allegations of government control of the election committee.
The new NEC came into being last month to replace an old body of the same name which was set up in 1998 and had been accused of facilitating election fraud in favor of the CPP.
Under the new body, the CPP and CNRP each choose four members and together appoint a ninth “neutral” member.
Reported by Morm Moniroth of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.