Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said yesterday that allowing the international community to participate in an election irregularities investigation would be a blatant violation of Cambodian law.
His words come after the National Election Committee announced on Sunday that a joint investigation committee between the two parties and the NEC had been scrapped due to the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s insistence on UN involvement.
Speaking outside the Interior Ministry yesterday, Sar Kheng told reporters that the CNRP’s demands were unacceptable.
“[The CNRP] wants to create a mechanism which is outside of the law and effectively wants to discard the role of the NEC. In our understanding, it is perhaps impossible to reject the NEC’s role, which is mandated under the law,” he said.
On Sunday, NEC president Im Suosdey said the NEC would create a three-person sub-committee under its own auspices to investigate electoral complaints – a sharp about-turn from Saturday, when it announced that all parties had agreed to form a joint committee.
“Now, the [CNRP] has rejected [the committee], but we still hope they will come back to take part in resolving this problem,” Sar Kheng said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday compared the NEC’s role in the proposed committee to the Thai government being allowed to judge on the disputed territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.
“We are allowing the troublemaker to resolve the problem. Is that really possible? We want a committee that can resolve problems,” he said.
The interior minister has met with a flurry of diplomatic representatives in the past week, with ministry officials confirming yesterday that the ambassadors of Australia, the US, Sweden, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan and the EU had visited the ministry.
Although most embassies yesterday declined to comment on the subject of these meetings, the minister said that no foreign delegations had stipulated any specific conditions for the investigating committee.
German Ambassador Wolfgang Moser, who met with Sar Kheng yesterday morning, said the fact that an investigating committee would be established at all was already a positive result, regardless of its “precise composition”.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for embassies to take part.... I think the participation of the NGOs and the UN as observers is already a very good result. I would say that we are not taking sides in [favour of] one solution or the other.”
The deadline for electoral complaint submissions was set for today, and the NEC has committed to releasing full preliminary results on Saturday.
Although the NEC has maintained that outside groups can participate only as observers, legal experts have said that the government’s claims of illegality are vastly overstated.
“The NEC cannot appoint the UN, but they can invite the UN to participate as observers or technical [advisers] or members.... If the UN agrees, then why not?” Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH AND STUART WHITE