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
"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
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
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.