Interior Minister Sar Kheng sat down with representatives from 10 civil society organisations on Friday for what Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak described as a “very frank discussion” of how to handle the investigation into the multitude of alleged irregularities in last month’s national election.
According to Virak, who attended the meeting, civil society made a handful of key recommendations and proposed an ad hoc investigative body led by the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party, with limited involvement from the National Election Committee, and civil society conducting the investigation and offering technical assistance.
“We recommended the UN is involved in some capacity, but mainly, at the very least, as an observer. But Mr Sar Kheng agreed that civil society should be involved, which is positive,” Virak said yesterday.
“He did say that [the body] had to be within the legal framework, which would mean the NEC would have to be involved,” he added. “We agreed that the NEC could be involved in moderating, but not in dictating the investigation.... But in the mechanisms that we push for, there needs to be a consensus, and the real power should lay with the two parties.”
Though no concrete decisions were arrived at, Virak said the talks were “quite friendly in many ways”.
“To me, it was almost like a breakthrough, where we could actually talk about the ideas,” he said. “On many things, [Kheng] said he would agree; on many things, he said he would consider it – that many of our recommendations were reasonable enough.”
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kheng confirmed that he agreed with the proposal that a joint investigative committee be created.
The NEC, however, said it won’t be waiting for any investigation, and that preliminary election results will be announced today, after which parties will have a 72-hour window to file complaints.
The CNRP has stated that the NEC taking a leadership role in any investigative body would defeat the purpose of an investigation, while the NEC, for its part, has maintained that only it has the legal authority to rule on irregularities. However, Koul Panha, executive director of the election watchdog Comfrel, said yesterday that the election law “does not prohibit independent investigation”.
“They [the NEC] are the ones who are also part of the problem in these election irregularities. That is why they should allow an independent investigation,” he said. “In the law, the NEC has no mechanism to investigate or understand the scale of severe irregularities that affect the election result. So that’s why this is something new.”
The NEC, he added, should then consider the findings and determine whether certain measures, including the possibility of holding new votes in certain precincts, should be undertaken.
Ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap also said any investigative committee must include the NEC.
“The constitution has stated that only the NEC has the right to organise everything related to the election throughout the country,” he said. “We cannot discard the NEC.”
But CNRP chief whip Son Chhay maintained yesterday that the NEC’s role should be limited to providing all necessary election-related documents, and that allowing the NEC to decide on the validity of the investigative body’s findings would be unacceptable.
“They are not a judge; they only accept [the result],” he said. “The NEC can’t turn away and say, ‘We don’t believe in this’, because then we all go in circles. The parties have to agree, the CPP and the CNRP have to agree that the result coming out from the investigation – the NEC must respect this result.”
NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha, however, continued to express scepticism at the very idea of such an investigation yesterday.
“Forming this committee may be impossible based on the law,” he said, noting that the release of official results had already been delayed too long. “If there is something with the results of the election that someone isn’t content with, they can lodge a complaint about the temporary results to the Constitutional Council or the NEC within 72 hours of the announcement.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEN DAVID