Cambodia’s parliament re-elected on Thursday the members of the National Election Committee in a vote boycotted by the opposition, which claimed the election body is biased towards Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party.
Two leading opposition parties, the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, also claimed that a recent registration of hundreds of thousands of new voters by the NEC ahead of 2013 national polls was flawed.
At a sitting of the National Assembly, 87 MPs, mostly from Hun Sen’s dominant Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), unanimously voted in seven existing NEC members and two new members nominated by the Ministry of the Interior.
Committee president Im Sousdey’s term was renewed for another five years, as was that of vice-president Sin Chhum Bo.
Objecting to the committee’s re-election, 29 parliamentarians from the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, which have decided to merge to take on the CPP in elections next year, demanded that the panel’s members be independent.
Call for reform
In a recent report, Surya Subedi, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, also stressed the need for the NEC to have “independent and autonomous status” in the constitutional and legal structure of Cambodia, with its own independent budget allocated by the parliament.
He said there should be consensus among the major political parties represented in the parliament on the appointment of the president and members of the NEC and the provincial election committees.
Subedi warned that Cambodia may plunge into violence if it does not reform the current electoral system to allow for fair and free elections.
Independence and transparency
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker and spokesman Son Chhay said the two opposition parties refuse to recognize the new NEC and will continue to advocate for further reform of the committee.
“The government must reconsider its decision,” he said, warning that that the committee must not fail to ensure a free and fair election come July.
Son Chhay warned that the opposition parties would not accept the results of the elections if reform proposals are not accepted.
Koul Panha, Director of the local election watchdog NGO Comfrel, said that the 2013 vote will not be widely seen as valid and credible if the NEC members are not endorsed by the opposition.
“The composition of the NEC must be transparent and have the participation of all parties. It is important to establish trust,” Koul Panha said.
During a meeting last month, the NEC rejected proposals from opposition party members to reform the panel, saying the people see “no problem” with the voting process.
Government officials also insist the NEC is independent and fair because all panel members must renounce their party affiliations before taking up their posts.
Im Sousdey said he is committed to work for the betterment of the country and that the committee’s work will be conducted transparently.
“With this approval, I am committed to working according to the laws. I will work openly and be transparent,” he said after his re-election.
Rights groups and opposition leaders say voting has already been marred by irregularities in this year’s voter registration and inspection of draft electoral rolls processes that will end Saturday.
The NEC said Wednesday that it had registered 600,000 new voters in a month-long process that ran smoothly and without irregularities.
But Koul Panha said that voter registration was not conducted properly and that the NEC had failed to take recommendations proposed by civil society groups to improve procedures.
Human Rights Party parliamentarian Ou Chanrith cites cases where officials were missing from voter registration stations and prospective voters registered outside their residential areas.
“I think, so far, the voter registration has not been conducted properly and it is unacceptable.”
Ou Chanrith also charged that police officers and soldiers had registered outside their residential areas to beef up constituencies where the CPP was seen to be weak.
Hem Sitha, commune council member for Sam Rong in southern Cambodia’s Prey Veng province, said that some political parties had recruited youths and transported them around to register in areas where they did not reside.
But the NEC said it had tightened procedures for voter registration.
NEC General Secretary Tep Nitha dismissed reports about parties helping voters register outside their residence areas.
"Offering assistance to people to help them get registered is not against the law. The only issue is whether those people met the criteria to register in that place or not,” he said.
“If we take people from other provinces or communes to register in places where they are not residents, then they would not meet the criteria, so voter registration officials would not register them.”
No official complaints were filed about the voter registration process, according to the election monitoring NGO Nicfec, saying opposition parties had not deployed observers at registration centers as they did at polling centers during elections.
At the last parliamentary election in 2008, Hun Sen’s CPP won 90 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly. The Sam Rainsy Party took 26 seats and the Human Rights Party just three.
Rights groups have accused Hun Sen—the longest-serving leader of any Southeast Asian country—of suppressing dissent and intimidating political opponents. He has ruled Cambodia since 1985, and in 2009 said he would continue to stand as a candidate until 2023.
Reported by Sok Serey and Den Ayuthea for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun and Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.