Prime Minister Hun Sen told a meeting of the Council of Ministers July 12 he had
instructed the Ministry of Interior to draft changes to the election law under which
the National Election Committee functions.
Government spokesman Pen Thol said the MoI had until July 26 to draft the changes.
"[Hun Sen] wants candidates who have no involvement in political parties represented
on the NEC," said Thol. "Instead the candidates would be selected from
among dignitaries and popular people in society."
Hun Sen's plan follows a proposal by Funcinpec - supported by the opposition SRP
- that a reformed NEC consist of a six member body made up of two representatives
from each party. The CPP suggestion is that the Ministry of Interior select five
Revamping the NEC, which oversees Cambodia's elections, has been at the forefront
of debate on electoral reform. The body was widely criticized for bias towards the
ruling CPP after both the 1998 general election and the commune elections which were
held earlier this year.
Response to the PM's proposals was mixed. Civil society representatives welcomed
the idea of an NEC free of party politicians, but were unhappy that the Ministry
of Interior would get to choose the 'independent' members of a reformed NEC.
In her capacity as head of election monitor NICFEC, Kek Galabru said a depoliticized
NEC would be a step forward.
"Civil society has worked for a long time to bring neutrality to the NEC, but
we have never been successful," she said. "But now donor countries have
reached a consensus which matches our requirements."
Galabru proposed that a selection committee - with representation from the three
political parties, NGOs and the media - choose the candidates. The selection committee
could subsequently act as a watchdog for the NEC.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he did not believe the MoI would select anyone
who could be described as independent. Instead it would ensure that only those candidates
who were malleable would be approved.
"There are some genuinely independent candidates such as the presidents of the
three local election NGOs and [political observer] Lao Mong Hay, but I don't believe
that they would fall within the sights of the MoI," said Rainsy. "And I
don't believe that a puppet party such as Funcinpec will oppose the CPP proposal
[when it comes to the vote] in the National Assembly."
Rainsy added that his legislators would refuse to vote in the National Assembly if
the candidates proposed by the MoI were not acceptable to all three parties.
Galabru said civil society groups would hold a public meeting July 22 to debate the
"We will be happy to see an independent NEC," said Galabru, "but the
government has merely stated [independence] in its paper. We need to see a genuine
commitment to that."