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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC dominated by CPP, say critics

NEC dominated by CPP, say critics

FIRST Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his allies in self-exile have suffered

a clean-sweep defeat of their nominees to the National Election Commission.

The NEC's independence is purportedly vital to donors, especially the European Union

(EU), for the running of "free and fair elections" scheduled this July.

However, most neutral critics say the body - which will operate by concensus - is

stacked with CPP sympathizers.

Foreign and local observers have been comparing notes on the NEC's 11 new members:

six of whom, most say, belong to or have clear CPP affiliations, though whispers

are common of as many as ten pro-CPP members.

Ranariddh and BLDP founder Son Sann - both in self-exile - had their nominations

quashed, their slots going instead to factional rivals who remained in Phnom Penh

during the fighting that ousted the Prince.

The Funcinpec place went to Defence co-Minister Tea Chamrath, while BLDP's went to

Keo Lundy, nominated by Sann's factional rival Ieng Mouly.

Son Soubert, protesting against "the comedy" of the vote, said the Assembly's

decision meant his BLDP MPs "are not officially recognized". Therefore,

he said, they would be unable to participate in the upcoming elections.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen declared the formation of the NEC a victory for Cambodia

and a credible electoral process after the Assembly voted 70 to 15 on Jan 26 to confirm

the Council of Minister's nominee list.

"I am convinced that this election will take place as scheduled in a free, fair

and just atmosphere without violence," Hun Sen said.

"They call Hun Sen a strongman. If the NEC members are pro-Hun Sen, he must

be a superman instead of a strongman from now on... [because] the law stipulates

that the NEC must not be subordinate to any political party."

BLDP parliamentarian Thach Reng walked out in disgust during the vote after Funcinpec

speaker Loy Sim Chheang, leading the session in the absence of Assembly President

Chea Sim, dismissed two protests filed by the self-exiles, and denied time to debate

the NEC nominations.

"The procedure of appointing the NEC was not democratic at all," Thach

Reng said. "[Opposition parliamentarian] Son Chhay raised his hand to speak,

but he was ignored."

Self-exiled Funcinpec official May Sam Oeun also expressed disappointment with the

procedure, saying that Sim Chheang asked them to submit a nominee and then ignored

their choice.

"I am not saying whether Tea Chamrath is neutral or not," May Sam Oeun

said by telephone from Bangkok. "But... Tea Chamrath was not nominated by Prince

Norodom Ranariddh, the president of Funcinpec."

Although an $11 million election aid package recently approved by the EU makes few

political demands on the government, it does call for "an independent and balanced

National Election Commission".

The EU received sharp criticism in the international press for not requiring a ceasefire

or the return of Prince Ranariddh in the agreement, which has 21 pages of technical

concerns and just three paragraphs of political concerns.

Diplomats warned that not much more should be expected from Japan, which will be

givng $8 million for the election.

"The problem with making Prince Ranariddh's return a condition [for election

aid] is that we don't want to give him veto power over the entire electoral process,"

one diplomat explained.

Thach Reng claimed that ten of the NEC's 11 members are biased toward the CPP. A

diplomatic source said however that only five are definitely CPP".

NEC bylaws currently being drawn up in the Interior Ministry will require a simple

majority of members to make decisions, meaning that six can control the commission.

One CPP appointment to the NEC, Prom Nean Vichet, made no secret of how he will vote

on politically sensitive issues brought to the commission. "I am a party representative

so I listen to my president [Chea Sim]. Otherwise I would not be here," he said.

But the CPP's Interior Ministry appointment, Chhay Kim, said he believed the NEC

would be truly independent, noting that all commission members must renounce their

positions in political parties and the government.

"I think that the 11 members of the NEC will perform their tasks in an independent

way," Chhay Kim said. "To do otherwise would be a big mistake for elections."

Chea Chamroeun, the NGO representative on the NEC, also said he would act in an impartial

manner, dismissing allegations that he collaborated with high-ranking CPP members

to bribe voters before the NGO election for the commission seat in December.

But new evidence has surfaced that CPP members directly influenced the NGO to vote

for Chamroeun. Human rights workers and one Assembly member, all of whom requested

anonymity, have obtained a letter from Cabinet co-Minister Sok An to the Interior

Ministry requesting the accreditation of about 30 new NGOs just four days before

the Dec 29 vote.

"There was confusion when [all the new NGO leaders] were called to vote. They

looked around like they did not know what was going on," one NGO representative

said, adding he had heard many of the unknown voters were brought in from the provinces.

"Sok An and [Hun Sen adviser] Om Yientieng have stuck their hands and legs into

this business."

Center for Social Development president Pok Than said his NGO and others in the election

watchdog group COFFEL were so suspicious of the voting procedure that they tried

to verify the legitimacy of the NGOs that participated.

"I think this is very sneaky. COFFEL asked the Ministry of Interior to investigate

the veracity of the NGOs," he said.

"The Interior Ministry did not listen to our request."

Sok An did not deny forwarding requests for about 30 new NGOs, but he claimed he

was merely doing his job as a Council of Ministers official. "If they ask to

register NGOs and you refuse, they will criticize you," he said. "You cannot

apply double standards. We did exactly what we did with other NGOs."

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