Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties agreed Monday to draft laws on key electoral reforms, the centerpiece of a deal that broke a one-year political deadlock following disputed elections, party leaders said.
Working groups from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia’s People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) are to meet Aug. 18 to discuss proposed legislation on restructuring the National Election Committee (NEC) and the implementation of other poll reforms, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said.
The draft laws should be based on “principles” stemming from the agreement clinched between Hun Sen and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy on July 22 and proposals by the two parties to amend the constitution incorporating the reforms, he said.
However, if the two parties are unable to come to an agreement on the draft laws, the matter would be referred to the top leaders to break the stalemate, according to Eng Chhay Eang.
The main reform that has been agreed upon under the deal between the two leaders is the overhaul of the composition of the NEC, with four members to be chosen by the CPP, four by the CNRP, and one mutually agreed upon by both groups.
The candidate selected by both parties, Pung Chhiv Kek, the head of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, has imposed several conditions before accepting the post, including immunity from prosecution for all NEC members.
The CPP had rejected the request for immunity, saying it was not international practice to offer such extensive protection to election organizers, but agreed to other demands such as the NEC’s financial autonomy and independence from the government.
Election reform groups have also called for a thorough review of the country’s election laws to ensure that the voting process in new elections is just and fair.
Head of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (NICFEC), Hang Puthea, said that registration of voters should be undertaken by the NEC itself rather than local councils.
He also called for provisions to allow Cambodians overseas to vote and to grant election observers access to every polling offices on voting day.
End to standoff
The CNRP had alleged that the last general elections in July 2013 were rigged in favor of Hun Sen’s CPP.
When the NEC dismissed the claims and declared the CPP the victor in the elections, the CNRP boycotted parliament and called for new polls and for Hun Sen to step down.
The two parties ended their political standoff with the July 22 agreement, which saw CNRP lawmakers swear their oath before the country’s King Norodom Sihamoni last week and take their seats in parliament.
The government reopened Freedom Park, the only sanctioned protest venue in Phnom Penh, which had been closed most of this year, and freed several CNRP lawmakers accused of stoking violent protests over the site’s closure.
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said Monday that he learned from his lawyers that he would not need to present himself at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for any questioning over the protests, as demanded by the court earlier.
Kem Sokha also said that he believed that three CNRP youth leaders under arrest for the protests would be released soon and that the charges of “insurrection” against seven party lawmakers would also be dropped.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng had issued a letter calling for the release of the three activists, according to Kem Sokha.
Reported by Tin Zakariya, Tep Soravy and Vohar Cheat for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Di Hoa Le.