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Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party
Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets supporters in Battambang province yesterday. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Trust the NEC, Rainsy says

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has lauded the Kingdom’s controversial new National Election Committee (NEC) and called on the public to trust a body he assured was both independent and neutral.

Rainsy, the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), delivered his message of positivity to hundreds of supporters in Kampong Chhnang on Monday, making the speech available on his social media page yesterday.

He expressed confidence that the new NEC – the outcome of a highly criticised bipartisan reform process – was the product of cooperation and collaboration between the ruling Cambodiam People’s Party (CPP), the CNRP and other independent actors.

“This culture of dialogue has brought a new NEC – a new NEC that we can be confident [about],” Rainsy said, adding that the body would provide the nation with a much-improved elections
administrator.

The NEC consists of nine members: four chosen by Rainsy’s CNRP, four by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP and “neutral” member Hang Puthea, the executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC). Party members have been required to shed their affiliations, another fact that Rainsy praised.

“In this culture of dialogue, both parties have called on all NEC members to [lose] their titles and . . . not seek advice from any party,” he said.

NEC president and CPP affiliate Sik Bun Hok and neutral member Puthea yesterday both vowed to ensure the NEC’s independence and warned the National Assembly to not meddle in the committee’s affairs.

“Independence means that our decisions are not influenced by any political parties,” Bun Hok said.

“I want the next election to be accepted by every political party.”

Puthea echoed this sentiment and stressed that his neutral status would help ensure the body works on behalf of the Cambodian public, rather than the partisan interests of either of the two major parties.

“The NEC must be independent,” he said. “I am not a politician promised to any interests, so I will try to [do] what both [parties] can accept.”

CNRP supporter Teng Sokhom aired hope that the NEC’s overhaul would fix an electoral administrator accused in the past of chronic mismanagement.

“I hope that the new NEC can work justly, and that the upcoming election will not be as fraudulent as previous times,” he said.

Civil society monitors, however, are approaching Rainsy’s optimism cautiously. Preap Kol, the executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said that while the new NEC seemingly represents a step in the right direction, it’s premature to state that the reformed body will meaningfully alter Cambodian politics.

“I think it is better than the previous NEC,” he said. “But it remains to be seen how they will perform.”

He added that the new NEC is also not completely independent, saying it would be more accurate to describe it as “bipartisan”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ETHAN HARFENIST

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