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NGOs offer own reform package

A coalition of NGOs yesterday issued proposed drafts of a new constitutional amendment governing the National Election Committee, with one signatory saying the drafts, if implemented, would establish a “minimum” threshold of independence and transparency in the Kingdom’s electoral process.

Speaking for the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) – comprising 11 watchdog organisations – Comfrel executive director Koul Panha told the press and observers yesterday the recommendations and an accompanying open letter were “specifically for both political parties”.

“It’s to improve the implementation of the agreement, corresponding to democratic principles, and principles of the independence of the election body,” Panha – himself on the shortlist for one of the four opposition-controlled seats on the committee – said later, after acknowledging the political agreement’s flaws.

“This is the minimum [bar for what] needs to be improved for fair elections in Cambodia.”

The draft amendment makes a number of stipulations, including that NEC members have parliamentary immunity, not be the spouse or relative of political leaders and not be members of a political party or the Royal Government.

And while it adheres to the political deal cut between the Cambodia National Rescue Party and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party – under which each party chooses four NEC members and the two jointly choose one independent “consensus” member – the amendment mentions neither by name. It also contains provisions that allow for the participation of multiple parties, should others join the assembly in the future.

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia and a signatory to the ERA letter, said civil society had hoped for an agreement establishing a fully independent NEC, but the new arrangement was still an improvement.

“The [independent option] would be better, but I think the political situation in Cambodia is not ready for that,” he said. “I think that there need to be [changes] in the future . . . Here you have a formula devised by two parties, but in the future . . . if there are new parties, they’re not going to like that.”

One proposal voiced by the ERA, that the NEC candidates apply rather than be appointed, was independently taken up by the CNRP yesterday.

Ex-CNRP lawmaker Kuoy Bunroeun – who gave up his seat for party president Sam Rainsy and who is considered the opposition’s first pick for the NEC – said the assembly’s secretariat should accept public applications, and representatives of each party would choose candidates from those applicants.

“Anyone can apply,” he said.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that his party had received the ERA recommendations, and that while it supported some – including the stipulation that NEC members could not be members of political parties – the party’s standing committee would be debating others, such as the injunction against politicians’ family members.

In recent days, the party has floated Kem Monovithya – CNRP deputy public affairs head and daughter of party deputy president Kem Sokha – as a potential pick for the NEC.

But CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun dismissed the ERA, saying: “I am bored by [the ERA’s] role. The two parties have been working together smoothly.… Why are those people trying to throw a firecracker at us?”

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