Cambodia’s lawmakers on Thursday approved a list of nine candidates for the country’s National Election Committee (NEC), assigning a member of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as the body’s chairman and a member of the opposition as its second in command.
The lower house of the National Assembly, or legislature, overwhelmingly passed the list of candidates for the NEC, which oversees the nation’s polls, with 113 votes in favor, one vote against, two votes in absentia and one abstention.
The four members from the CPP are Sek Bunhok, Mean Sati, Duch Sorn, and Em Sophath, while the four from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) are Kuoy Bunroeun, Rong Chhun, Hing Thirith, and Te Manirong.
Em Sophath and Mean Satik are current NEC members, while Duch Sorn is a retired Interior Ministry official.
Kuoy Bunroeun is head of the opposition’s election reform working group, Rong Chhun is president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, Hing Thirith is a Supreme Court general prosecutor, and Te Manirong—the only female member nominated to the NEC—is a retired civil servant.
The ninth “neutral” member is Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), who was nominated last week after Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of local rights group Licadho, refused the job, citing concerns about government influence on the body.
Ruling party member Sek Bunhok was selected as the NEC chairman, on the recommendation of the CPP, while opposition member Kuoy Bunroeun was appointed vice chairman.
Local media reported that the vote was originally planned for April 13, but was rescheduled on Wednesday, hours after the names of the presumptive candidates were leaked.
Following the vote, Hun Sen declared that the eight members from the two parties would put aside their political allegiances to work “independently” for the good of the nation, and called for an end to the culture of revenge between the CPP and CNRP.
“Our work is not only being carried out on the national level, but at the grassroots level as well,” he told members of the media during a joint press conference with CNRP President Sam Rainsy at the National Assembly building in the capital Phnom Penh.
“The policy of ‘when the tide is high, the fish eat ants, when the tide is low, the ants eat fish’ must be permanently ended. We have no other choice than to live together, despite our different views. We are all Khmer and … have the duty to make this land prosperous so the people can live happily.”
Calls for cooperation
Sam Rainsy, who had previously accused the NEC of being controlled by the CPP, echoed Hun Sen’s call for cooperation, urging the country’s ruling party and opposition to “forget the past” issues that had led to disputes between the two sides.
He called on officials to “serve the voters, not their parties,” and expressed hope that the new NEC would guide the country through successful elections in 2018, when Hun Sen’s term is complete.
“From now on, you do not have any bonds with the party,” he told the nation’s politicians.
“All decisions should be based on law, impartiality and fairness, to seek and provide justice to the Cambodian people.”
Political analyst Kem Ley welcomed the idea of ending to the culture of revenge in Cambodian politics, but said it would only be possible if the government sets the example.
“The tide is high now, so the fish should not eat ants. But nowadays, the fish are eating ants—the government is cracking down on human rights activities and advocates,” he said.
“Thus, the fish of the government should not eat ants in order to avoid the ants eating fish.”
The National Assembly’s approval of the new NEC members must still be adopted by the Senate, but that is widely seen as a formality.
The new NEC members will take an oath before King Norodom Sihamoni on Saturday and will officially assume their positions on April 13 at the committee’s headquarters, located inside the Ministry of the Interior compound.
Both parties agreed to revamp the NEC as part of a deal in July 2014 which saw opposition lawmakers return to the National Assembly following a 10-month boycott protesting a disputed national election the year before.
The CPP was declared victorious in the 2013 election, sparking widespread protests and allegations of government control of the NEC, which oversees polls in the country.
Reported by Tin Zakariya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.