Although Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Friday agreed that no member of an overhauled National Election Committee could have multiple nationalities, it remains unclear whether rights activist and triple national Pung Chhiv Kek is out of the running for the only bipartisan position.
Rainsy said in an email yesterday that despite his party’s acquiescence, he believed “there will be no change” on Kek as both parties’ favoured candidate to take the ninth and final spot on an NEC otherwise made up of political appointees.
The Licadho president will be allowed to join the NEC if she “suspends” her French and Canadian citizenships while sitting on the committee, a vague solution that the opposition has painted as a compromise from Hun Sen.
While neither side has outlined any legal procedure for how a temporary renouncement of citizenship could work, they continued to advance this argument yesterday after a final meeting between working groups drafting a new NEC law.
“In spirit, we are still thinking about [Pung Chhiv Kek], but we must also look into the [criteria set] by our law,” said Kuoy Bunroeun, the opposition CNRP’s top negotiator. “Provided that [she] fulfils [the role] according to the legal conditions, we can accept [her].”
CPP working group head Bin Chhin said a candidate would be chosen after the NEC law is passed, which both parties have agreed will happen before the end of February.
“[We] have not eyed anyone yet, because the law is not yet issued,” Chhin said, despite Hun Sen agreeing in July that Kek could take the position.
Kek has repeatedly declined to address her candidacy. But Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator at Licadho, said Kek was not troubled by the new restriction and was still waiting for demands made months ago to be met.
“She has asked for conditions, that the NEC is independent, members have [parliamentary-style] immunity, the right to choose staff autonomously, the right to autonomously control its budget. If this is all OK, she will agree, if not, she will decline,” he said.
Sam Ath said he could not comment on whether Kek would give up her other nationalities.
“She’s Cambodian, so if they really need her, they will let her keep [her other citizenships].”
Koul Panha, the head of elections watchdog Comfrel, who has been floated as an alternative candidate, said he would still consider it. But, he added, he supported Kek’s candidacy and lambasted the nationality restriction.
“There is no justification for this.… I think these two parties are not taking responsibility.”
Separately yesterday, Rainsy released a statement seeking to justify his latest political deal with Hun Sen, which has been criticised by some observers as horse trading for short-term political goals. Rainsy said the CNRP’s real intention was “to lay the foundation for Cambodia’s democratic future”.
“What the CNRP has obtained represents significant strides towards democracy for a country which has only recently emerged from a long period of authoritarianism,” he said, citing the new NEC, opposition TV and radio licences, and his forthcoming recognition as minority leader in parliament.