The head of a key election reform group in Cambodia said Tuesday that he would consider applying for a position on the country’s new election body if membership selection is open to the public and transparent.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee on Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), told RFA’s Khmer Service that the main opposition party has asked him to apply to become a member of a reformed National Election Committee (NEC), but that he believes everyone should be able to apply for a seat in an open process.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have already decided that the new NEC will consist of nine members—four from each party and one neutral member to serve as tiebreaker—and they are preparing a joint proposal to parliament for endorsement.
Both parties have selected Pung Chhiv Kek, the head of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, to be the neutral member.
Koul Panha, who is visiting Washington to observe the mid-term congressional elections, said that although parliament must endorse the selection of the new NEC members, the application process should be open to the public rather than confined to those from the two parties, in order to instill trust in the process.
“The CNRP and nongovernmental organizations have approached me that I should become an NEC member,” he said. “I told them I am considering [it], but what’s important now is that the selection process must be transparent so that those who are chosen can be trusted.”
“I have recommended that the new law must allow the NEC selection to be transparent and public,” he said. “Anyone should be able to apply rather than be selected.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP and the CNRP, led by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, have completed 90 percent of a draft law to reform the country’s electoral body.
But Koul Panha said the draft law is still sketchy because of a lack of agreement on how the NEC president, vice president, secretary general, and vice secretary general would be elected.
He also said the two parties have failed to decide on the NEC’s budget.
“The budget issue is very important,” he said. “In order for an institute to be independent, its budget must be offered without pressure from the government, political parties, or any other group.”
Koul Panha also criticized working groups from the two parties for getting mired in issues that slowed down the process, such as the question of whether Cambodians with dual citizenship can hold NEC positions.
The country’s constitution, however, guarantees that Cambodians can hold such offices even though they have dual citizenship, he said.
Overhauling the NEC, which oversees the country’s elections, was a key component of a deal struck in July between the two political parties to end a long-running standoff following disputed elections a year earlier.
Working groups from the two sides are scheduled to meet Nov. 11 to finalize the remaining 10 percent of the draft law. Once agreed upon, the draft must be discussed and approved in parliament.
The remaining differences between the groups are related to the selection of the powerful posts of NEC secretary general and deputy secretary general.
Koul Panha said previously that the draft law would require candidates to have a minimum of five years working in the NEC, as well as experience outside of the electoral process, to serve as the body’s secretary general or deputy secretary general.
He also had called on the two parties to allow representatives from nongovernmental organizations to participate in formulating the draft law.
Reported by Samean Yun of RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.