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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP says election clauses not unfriendly

CPP says election clauses not unfriendly

SUGGESTIONS that many Funcinpec and other politicians may be barred from standing

in commune elections have been disputed by an adviser to co-Minister of Interior

Sar Kheng.

Ang Vong Vathana said this week that several controversial clauses in a draft commune

election law were not intended to be used against Funcinpec and the Khmer Nation

Party (KNP).

A draft of the law prohibits government employees "who are voted out or fired

from their jobs" for standing for election for five years.

Also barred are people who "have been naturalized citizens for less than 10

years" and those who "reclaimed their citizenship" less than five

years ago.

Some NGO observers suggested that KNP president Sam Rainsy, sacked as Finance Minister

in 1994, and Funcinpec members, many of whom returned to Cambodia from refugee camps

or Western countries after the 1991 peace accords, could be affected by the bans.

Vathana said the ministry had since produced another draft of the law, which he declined

to give to the Post but indicated that the same provisions were still in it.

He said the clause relating to people sacked from government jobs was not aimed at

"political people" but at civil servants who might have been fired for

matters such as stealing money. Asked about Rainsy, he said the ban was "not

for him."

The reference to people "reclaiming" their citizenship would not relate

to Funcinpec or other people who were in the refugee camps, he said. There might,

however, be a requirement that returnees would have to have lived in Cambodia for

"two or three" years before they could stand for election.

The ministry was still considering the issue, he said, and would wait to see what

provisions were included in the nationality law expected to go before the National

Assembly soon.

Vathana confirmed that the draft commune law - which observers suggest may be used

as the basis for the 1998 national elections as well - provides for commune chiefs

to be elected by a simple majority system.

International experts said the system, also known as "first past the post",

could be more politically-divisive than a proportional system such as that used in

the 1993 UN-sponsored elections.

Under first past the post, the candidate who gets the most votes in each constituency

- even if it's only 20 or 30 per cent of the total vote - automatically wins. Critics

say a system which allows people to be elected, even if more than half their electorate

did not vote for them, will lead to political dissatisfaction.

Most experts agree that an absolute majority system - where candidates have to win

more than 50 per cent of the vote - or a proportional system is more democratic.

But an absolute majority system usually requires a 'run off' or second round election,

or preferential voting whereby voters list their second and third choices on the

ballot paper, before a candidate gets 50 per cent of the vote. "We can forget

about that," said one NGO expert who believed such a system was too complicated

to be organized and understood properly in Cambodia.

Observers said that a proportional system, though more democratic, had its disadvantages.

Candidates were usually chosen by parties, without any independent candidates, and

more interested in serving their parties than their constituencies.

"The trouble with the proportional representation system is that people do not

know their candidates and the candidates rarely go to their electorates, so they

do not appreciate local issues," said one official.

Several observers maintained that a simple majority system would favor the CPP, which

enjoys relatively uniform provincial support.

One went further to suggest that a proliferation of smaller political parties - as

publicly urged by CPP leader Hun Sen - would help CPP by splitting the non-CPP vote.

One lawyer familiar with electoral practices described the commune elections as "a

recipe for political friction which is essentially a waste of time and money."

"It's great that people are thinking about, but there's no legal [constitutional]

basis for electing an administration at the local level.

"[Also], there is no legislation which sets out the powers and responsibilities

of administration at the local level - Cambodians will soon be able to vote for commune

chiefs, but what are those commune chiefs supposed to do?"



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