A member of the ruling party’s election-reform negotiating team has told the Post that expectations of the depth of reforms that can actually occur before the 2017 commune and 2018 national elections need to be “realistic”.
Prum Sokha, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said that a revamped National Election Committee would not mean that its administration and processes would be completely overhauled.
“Some [people], they think that the new NEC or the new [NEC] law, it means that everything will be [made] new by abolishing the existing mechanism, the existing administration. I say that no, you can’t change that,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
“We are changing the political appointees, the political positions, but this one [the administration] will go ahead.”
The key principle of a July 22 agreement between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to end the latter’s boycott of the National Assembly was that the NEC be overhauled to ensure free and fair elections.
The “new” NEC has since been enshrined in a new chapter of the constitution that stipulates its nine members will now be chosen by the political parties. They were previously appointed by the Interior Ministry.
Four are to be chosen by each party, while one is to be a “consensus candidate”. The parties are now debating a new draft law to regulate the new NEC before they move on to amending the election law.
The nine NEC candidates are yet to be finalised, but Sokha said the CPP “of course” planned on taking the presidency, given it holds the parliamentary majority that is needed to approve the candidates.
“If anyone in the world got the majority, would they let another get the post?” he said.
But the ruling party negotiator insisted that an election body headed by a CPP candidate would still be neutral, because all members will be made to resign from their political party. He said that unspecified rules and regulations would ensure the NEC’s neutrality.
“To me, independence depends on the neutrality of [the] organisation, it does not just depend on … human beings.”
Election watchdogs have long called for the current voter-registration process to be overhauled and taken out of the hands of elected commune councils and given to the NEC.
But Sokha said that while the CPP was open for discussion on that proposal, again, “everybody should be realistic”.
“The NEC just got their staff in Phnom Penh at the National Election Committee headquarters. But at the provincial level, they have less than 10 permanent staff, as far as I know.… At the commune level, they have no permanent staff.”
He dismissed suggestions that the “administrative” voter-registration work performed by elected commune councils could be politically biased.
A Post investigation ahead of last July’s election found that nearly all of Phnom Penh’s communes had voter-registration rates in excess of 100 per cent, and there were more than 25,000 duplicate names in the capital alone.
Sokha went on to say that if an entirely new voter list with fresh registration could be drawn up within a year, the CPP would likely agree to it. But another option, he said, was a voter-list review.
Kem Monovithya, a member of the CNRP’s election reform working group, said that one of the key disagreements between the parties centred on changes to the NEC’s administration.
“If we keep the same procedure and we keep the same people in the secretariat, we will have the same problems at the next election,” she said.
Monovithya added that the CNRP had never agreed that the CPP could appoint the NEC president. She said that the opposition was pushing for the ninth consensus candidate to lead the NEC or for the NEC members to be allowed to vote on the presidency.
She also said that the idea that members from each party would not be politically partisan was “ridiculous” and that the 4-4-1 formula was designed to preserve a “balance of power”.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said that financial and technical support promised by foreign governments like Japan for election reforms should allow for voter registration to be overhauled and a new list produced by the next election.
“If we are talking about doing something that results in improvement, we are talking about doing something different. Why would we repeat the same procedure?”