Members of the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) met yesterday to develop ways to “mitigate” the impact of a controversial new election law, after an assessment of the legislation found 11 articles were worse than the old regulations.
Gathering more than a month after lawmakers adopted the law, some 20 representatives of the alliance discussed sending a “guideline” to the newly formed National Election Committee to address their serious concerns over several articles that they said undermined the principles of free and fair elections.
Among the group’s chief concerns are provisions that would levy harsh fines on NGOs deemed to have “insulted” parties and allow political parties to be disqualified for offences committed by individual members.
Conceding the law would not be amended in the short term, Koul Panha, executive director of the election monitor NGO Comfrel, said the ERA wanted to work with the bipartisan NEC to guide its implementation.
This included recommending the NEC adopt a system of warning steps and a code of conduct to regulate the election rather than rely on punitive measures, he said.
“We hope the NEC won’t rush to punish, if they do it will hurt their credibility,” he said, adding he was “hopeful” the committee would listen.
“We still have some space to work, to mitigate any risks that are going to limit freedom of expression and the right to participate in politics.”
Also among provisions criticised in the ERA’s analysis, was the decision to scrap the old law’s formula for allocating seats based on population, demography, economics and geography, and instead assign each province a set amount of seats.
“They have no justification for doing this and it’s a very risky development. it gives the ruling party power to change the allocation of seats whenever they want,” he said.
The analysis also raised concerns over the restriction limiting parties to four political street rallies during the campaign period, which – in another negative step – was reduced from 30 to 21 days.
Meanwhile, a more favourable voter registration system was among 12 provisions labelled as positive by the ERA.
The election law was central to the deal struck between the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP last year that ended the CNRP’s yearlong, postelection boycott of parliament.
CNRP spokesmen Yem Ponharith, who attended the meeting, told stakeholders he agreed with the group’s analysis and would take their concerns to his party.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the committee was aware of civil society’s concerns.
“We will take their issues and put them on the table for discussion, but the decision depends on the nine members of the NEC,” he said.