The leadership and staff of the National Election Committee – the independent body tasked with adjudicating electoral irregularities and disputes – ceased to be independent contractors yesterday as they were folded into the government ranks.
NEC director Sik Bun Hok told the body’s 362 employees yesterday that even though they are now technically civil servants, they must still maintain strict autonomy.
“Being contract officials is not stable, but now you are stable since you’ve become government officials,” he said.
According to a royal decree formalising the move, long-serving NEC secretary general Tep Nytha – who has been repeatedly accused of pro-government bias – now holds a rank equivalent to secretary of state.
The reform of the NEC was a major component of the agreement between the ruling and opposition parties in the wake of the disputed 2013 elections, though the process has been criticised as overly partisan.
NEC spokesman and designated neutral member Hang Puthea said that incorporating the body into the government would actually make it more neutral, as officials would not have to worry about having their contracts cancelled over politically unpopular decisions.
However, Koul Panha, of election watchdog Comfrel, said the move could “affect the autonomy of the NEC” and disincentivise improvements.
“Civil servants are more static. They’ll be like, ‘I’m a civil servant. It’s a contract for life.’”