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Hun Sen speaks during a graduation ceremony at the National Institute for Education
Hun Sen speaks during a graduation ceremony at the National Institute for Education yesterday in Phnom Penh where he targeted a group of NGOs for their boycott on election-related draft laws. Hong Menea

‘Arrogant’ NGOs mocked

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday lashed out at a group of NGOs that boycotted this week’s consultation on two election-related draft laws at the National Assembly, characterising them as prima donnas that consider their presence more important than other interested groups.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute for Education, the premier slammed the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) for skipping Monday’s meeting, which saw the two major political parties publicly defend a new National Election Committee law and amended election law.

ERA members have claimed the new election law is worse than the old one, will place undue restrictions on the freedom of NGOs, and was drafted without meaningful consultation by parties simply suiting their own political interests.

Hun Sen yesterday attributed their unwillingness to participate in Monday’s forum to arrogance.

“Because of [their] obsession with stardom, there were some organisations boycotting,” he said.

“But [we can] ask, has this boycott caused [us] to die? [We] have not died. We are going ahead smoothly.”

The premier continued by saying that the participation of the ERA – whose findings after the 2013 poll were used by the opposition CNRP to back up their claims of widespread election fraud – was irrelevant, as the laws were not made to satisfy them.

“Now [we] have heard that if the parliament invites [them] again, they would come [and join],” he said.

“There is no time [to call all of you again]. Attending or not attending is your business. No one is going to satisfy just a few of you.”

He added that although the groups, which include longtime poll monitors like Comfrel and NICFEC, may consider themselves essential to election reform, their failure to approve the laws would not stop the parties from pressing forward with their plans to pass them in the National Assembly.

“No, it is not like this. [We have] one country, one institution, one mechanism; [we] will never let it become deadlocked.”

At Monday’s meeting, CNRP election reform working group member Eng Chhay Eang also appeared to rebuff the ERA’s concerns, saying those who claimed the amended election law was worse than before had clearly not read the old law.

Comfrel executive director Koul Panha yesterday continued to call for CPP and CNRP leaders to hold further, and more in-depth, consultations with civil society.

The ERA had complained before Monday’s meeting that they had not been given enough time to prepare, given that full drafts of the law were only released on the weekend.

“Why did [Hun Sen] say that this law does not belong to civil society?” Panha said, citing a provision of the amended election law that would levy harsh fines on NGOs if they are deemed to have insulted political parties or candidates during the election period.

“These laws will affect civil society, so they must be allowed to join [with the parties] and discuss them properly.”

Separately, UN rights envoy Surya Subedi on Monday evening backed NGO calls for further public consultations, saying in a statement that “the parties must not negotiate away national and international human rights standards”.

“It is regrettable that the draft law was shared only on the eve of the consultation, precluding the possibility for civil society and other interested actors from examining it in depth and contributing meaningfully to the consultation,” he said.

“The process of consultation must continue with sufficient time to enable all those with views to articulate them, so as to enable Parliament to embark on an informed debate prior to proceeding on the enactment of these important laws.”

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