The National Election Committee’s newly minted press reaction team responded late on Wednesday to the European Union’s decision to cut funding for the 2018 election, claiming it was unfair to judge the elections before they took place.
The EU made the decision to pull its funding, with about $1 million outstanding, earlier this week after the Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved last month. “An electoral process from which the main opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded cannot be seen as legitimate,” reads an EU statement released on Tuesday.
The NEC dismissed this, however, saying that it was too early to come to any conclusion about the elections.
“What reasons can be used to evaluate the NEC that the 2018 election is not free and fair?” the statement asks, noting that the EU had previously praised the handling of commune elections held in June.
The new press reaction team of the nominally neutral body was specifically created to “attack back at negative” news, and is stacked with members loyal to the ruling party.
The NEC’s make-up has also changed after three CNRP-nominated members resigned in protest. One of their replacements has helped to run ruling party election campaigns in the past.
Sam Kuntheamy, director of election watchdog Nicfec, said civil society in general does not trust the NEC now that its composition has changed.
“The NEC members are from different political parties and civil society, but if you see the background, they worked in the government,” he said.
Furthermore, Kuntheamy said the NEC was less diligent during this year’s voter registration than they were last year, for example by failing to look into opposition party complaints, possibly because they expected it to be dissolved, he said.
George Edgar, EU ambassador to Cambodia, clarified that the decision to cut funding was based on the actions of the Cambodian government, not those of the NEC.
“As the Delegation’s press statement on 12 December made clear, the Commission’s decision to suspend assistance to the NEC was made in response to recent actions by the Cambodian authorities against the political opposition, in particular the dissolution of the CNRP,” he said via email yesterday.
“The Commission’s decision does not reflect on our experience of working with the NEC, which has been very positive. Nor does it represent any judgement on the performance of the NEC between now and the National Assembly [elections] next July.”