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Government minimises role of NGOs

A joint investigation into election irregularities may have gone back to square one after the government appeared to have blocked NGO participation in an inquiry, saying yesterday that they could only play a role of observer.

“If [NGOs] just join to listen or observe, it’s no problem,” senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said when asked whether the groups would be permitted to actively partake in the investigation.

After fruitful discussions between civil society groups and Interior Minister Sar Kheng last Friday, NGOs looked to have had an active role to play in the committee.

Cambodia Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak, one of the civil society representatives who met with Kheng, said he was disappointed to have heard of the backtracking.

“It’s going back to square one. It’s very frustrating,” he said. “Where do we go from here?”

Virak said both parties should come back to the table, allow the NEC to moderate investigations and involve NGOs as much as possible.

“That’s the more acceptable solution.”

Yeap said he and two other high-ranking CPP officials had been tasked with talking to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party about the committee, which, he added, must involve the National Election Committee – a body the CNRP maintains is ruling-party controlled.

“NEC has the right under the law to be responsible for this … but it is not necessary to use the United Nations to control us,” Yeap said, referring to calls for international involvement.

NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha, however, said yesterday that both parties could “form a committee by themselves; it is their business”.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said he had not heard direct comments from Yeap saying NGOs would be excluded from the committee, but said that the CPP seemed to be “turning everything upside down”.

“Now they’re changing everything. But I don’t know what he said – he did promise to call us.”

With time ticking down on a 72-hour window to object to the NEC’s preliminary election results released on Monday, CNRP officials from across the country met yesterday afternoon to discuss their next move.

Chhay said the CNRP would submit complaints today, “even though we don’t trust the NEC”.

The announcement of the results, coming before an investigating committee was formed, prompted CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha to declare on Monday that the election body would be responsible for any mass demonstrations that erupt.

Chhay said he and Sokha visited the offices of the EU yesterday morning to allay fears things could get out of control.

“They seem concerned about a protest,” he said. “But it’s important the CPP solve this irregularity.”

Uncertainty in the post-election period continued yesterday, highlighted by claims from trade unions and labour-rights groups that 30 per cent of some garment factories’ staffs were absent from work, a result of “fear-mongering and power games of political parties”.

“We strongly condemn the unnecessary and unwelcomed military presence in the country’s capital,” a statement says.

The union groups also said they were disappointed by the NEC’s “lack of will” to allow an independent investigation into “widespread election irregularities”.

About 100 people from some 20 civil society organisations will hold a ceremony at the capital’s Wat Phnom today to pray for a peaceful resolution.

With CNRP president Sam Rainsy’s rhetoric from the US this week including more threats of a mass demonstration, many wonder what will happen when he touches down in Cambodia on Thursday.

But it’s talking – not a demonstration – that is the priority for the CNRP, Chhay said.

“We are the peacemakers. In contrast, it’s the other side that has the army.”




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