Women's rights groups yesterday seized on discussions between the ruling party and opposition over appointments to the new National Election Committee to demand a female presence on the body.
However, just hours after their protest, it was revealed that only one of 24 official candidates was a woman.
Six days ahead of a vote by lawmakers on the NEC’s nine positions, about 200 representatives of a coalition of 40 organisations attempted to march on the National Assembly to voice their concerns over women’s potential exclusion from the body.
Their demonstration, blocked from reaching the assembly by police, came as parliament released its shortlist of 24 candidates for the NEC, which will be cut to a final nine today before it is sent to the assembly’s standing committee.
The NEC committee will be composed of four members chosen by each party and a ninth, mutually agreed upon “neutral” member.
The shortlist of applicants – finalised following talks between Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy on Monday includes government and opposition lawmakers, current NEC members, current and retired civil servants, lawyers, teachers, a doctor and a Supreme Court prosecutor, according to the list signed by National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
So far, only one party candidate – Kuoy Bunroeun, head of the CNRP’s election reform working group – has been confirmed as a certain inclusion among those to be put forward for the April 13 vote.
The neutral slot is tipped to go to Hang Puthea, the head of election monitoring group Nicfec, who was backed by both parties last week, following Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek’s decision to turn down the role.
Thida Khus, head of women’s political advocacy group Silaka, which helped organise yesterday’s protest for equality, said it was frustrating that Kek appeared to have been intentionally undermined by a new legal provision restricting dual citizenship holders from NEC positions.
However, she remained upbeat about the chances of retired civil servant of 33 years, Te Manyrong, the only woman among the 24 candidates. Manyrong could not be reached for comment yesterday.
“I’m very hopeful [that] at least we have one [woman],” Khus said, following the protest, which authorities claimed lacked permission.
“It is important that women are on the committee to represent women when it comes to registration and voting for elections.”
According to yesterday’s National Assembly announcement, 68 people applied for NEC candidate forms and 31 filed their applications. However, only 24 candidates filled out the form correctly.
Among possible Cambodian People’s Party selections on the list is lawmaker Sik Bun Hok, who has been touted as a likely candidate to serve as the new NEC’s president.
On the CNRP side, applicants include Muth Chantha, chief of cabinet for deputy party leader Kem Sokha, as well as lawyer Choung Choungy, who appears to have filed despite having been sentenced to two years in prison by the Kandal provincial court almost two weeks before the NEC application process was opened.
Choungy, sentenced in absentia, stands accused of helping Kien Svay district councillor Meas Peng “escape” from prison in 2011, a charge he and fellow accused CNRP lawmaker Chan Cheng have rejected as absurd.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith said the party would meet today to decide on its three additional selections aside from Bunroeun. Both parties will submit their selections to the National Assembly’s standing committee later this week ahead of a full-session vote on Monday.
Ponharith said that although his party supported qualified female candidates, calls for gender equality and transparency alone didn’t justify selecting applicants.
But, he added, the CNRP “might support [Te Manyrong], since we have a female empowerment policy in social and political affairs and we want the NEC to have a female candidate as well”.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan declined to reveal the party’s selections but echoed comments from Ponharith that predicted a smooth vote.
Also among candidates listed yesterday were Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association president Rong Chhun and Supreme Court prosecutor Thirith, who, as an investigating judge, convicted Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew Nim Sophea in 2004 for his involvement in a shooting.
Speaking yesterday, Thirith, who in 2004 also dropped charges against two suspects who were later wrongly convicted in connection with the murder of unionist Chea Vichea, said he wanted to use his experience as an independent-minded prosecutor to serve the NEC.
The creation of a new NEC was a key concession made by the CPP in July to get the opposition to end its boycott of parliament following the disputed 2013 election.
Commenting on the list, political analyst Chea Vannath said: “The quantity means nothing to the public, the voters are concerned more with the quality and how they are going to shape the NEC to be a strong, independent institution.”