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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Parties condemn new NEC

Parties condemn new NEC

A number of political parties have expressed fears that changes to the National Election

Committee (NEC), the body that oversees the country's elections, mean the general

election set for July 2003 will not be free and fair.

Amendments to the Election Law were passed by the National Assembly on August 21,

and the new NEC will be comprised of five "dignitaries" selected by the

Ministry of Interior. Opposition lawmakers strongly criticized the legislation, saying

it would allow the coalition Cambodian People's Party and Funcinpec government to

appoint party loyalists to the supposedly independent body.

A Funcinpec source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post that the two

senior party members who negotiated with the CPP over the amendments - Senator Nhiek

Bun Chhay and co-Minister of Interior You Hokry - had reached a deal which would

see the royalists holding two of the five NEC posts. Nhiek Bun Chhay denied any such

deal had been made.

Prince Norodom Chakrapong, president of the newly-formed Chakrapong Khmer Spirit

Party, criticized the debate in the National Assembly, pointing out the law was identical

to the original draft put forward by the CPP, despite fierce criticism from opposition

lawmakers.

"If I had the support of about 98 percent of the votes like the CPP, I would

not be afraid of drafting a law acceptable to all political parties, civil society

and the international community," said Chakra-pong. "I think there have

been irregularities behind this law."

Loy Simchheang, who heads the Sangkum Thmei Party (New Society Party), said that

the process of choosing members for the NEC was not transparent and heavily favored

the two main parties.

"The NEC is still biased," said Simchheang. "If there is no transparency

there will still be no justice for our society, especially for the voters."

And the outspoken Funcinpec lawmaker, Keo Remy, said foreign donors had to understand

that the new legislation undermined public faith in democracy.

"We have no confidence that the Interior Ministry will select [objective] candidates

because the law did not contain sufficient safeguards to ensure a transparent, free

and fair election," he said. "If the leaders of the two political parties

consider their own interests ... without thinking about justice, the Cambodian people

will no longer be confident that it is worth voting."

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was also vocal about the amendment, and predicted the

new NEC would be even worse than its predecessor. His assessment was backed up by

Hang Dara, leader of the newly formed Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party. He described

the changes as a means to guarantee the CPP a substantial majority in next year's

general election.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Funcinpec's leader and President of the National Assembly,

maintained there were many good points in the amendment. He hailed it as a good compromise

and said it would benefit the country.

"Even though we are not 100 percent happy, we are satisfied [the amendments

have won] the approval in law," said Ranariddh.

Um Sarith, secretary-general of the Senate, said there had been no time to debate

the law in the second chamber as it was urgent. That was regrettable, said senator

Kem Sokha, adding that the government had intentionally rushed the bill through the

Senate to avoid debate.

In her speech to the National Assembly on August 21, the UN High Commissioner for

Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said the key to the success of any legislation was a

full consultative process among all political parties, civil society organizations

and the general public.

"I realize that there are important debates and differing views on many areas

of this legislation, and look forward to the development of laws and regulations

that help address concerns key to the success of these elections," Robinson

said.

She noted that while the government had accepted some UN recommendations in drafting

the amendments, more could have been done."It's not as strong a law as my office

or many others would have wished," she said.

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