Lawmakers were to vote today on whether to approve nine members of the new bipartisan National Election Committee, after the ruling and opposition parties decided to fast-track the ballot hours after naming their nominees.
At a press conference yesterday evening, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy said the National Assembly vote, originally scheduled for Monday, would go ahead early in a bid to get the NEC up and running before Khmer New Year.
“We hope that the new NEC will form tomorrow, and together we will also push for the [members] to take their positions before Khmer New Year on April 14, which will involve getting the King to sign a royal decree,” Kheng said.
Kheng said the eight party-selected candidates – unveiled yesterday morning – as well as the ninth “neutral” member, revealed last week as Hang Puthea, head of election watchdog Nicfec, would be voted on as a single package.
Although the ruling Cambodian People’s Party holds a parliamentary majority, Rainsy said the parties had coordinated the NEC candidates together, meaning their nominations would not be blocked.
“The National Assembly will approve the NEC tomorrow; this is our hope for the New Year; that we have a new NEC, that we have a modern age and we will have better elections, so there will be no problems like before,” Rainsy said.
Separately, Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking at the National Institute of Education yesterday, also discussed the vote, saying it would be resolved “in a minute” because he had to go Siem Reap on Monday, a day when “no one would come to work”. “We all agreed, this is the result of the spirit of the culture of dialogue which was established by Cambodians,” the premier said.
News of the fast-track vote came just hours after both the CPP and CNRP revealed their nominations for the nine-person committee.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the ruling party’s candidates – CPP lawmaker Sik Bun Hok (nominated for NEC president), current NEC members Em Sophat and Mean Satik and retired Interior Ministry official Duch Son – were selected because of their “strong stance”, “good work” and because they met the requirements.
Eysan added that the CPP’s candidates would resign as party members when elected, a condition under the new law.
The CNRP yesterday named its nominees as Kuoy Bunroeun, head of the opposition’s election reform working group; Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association; Hing Thirith, a Supreme Court general prosecutor; and retired civil servant Te Manirong.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Thirith represented justice and was selected because of his “respect for the law”, while Chhun stood for the interests of workers and Manirong was selected to empower women.
“The [CNRP] does not need any members of the NEC to do something for the party; we really want the NEC independent and performing neutrally,” he said.
Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum policy think tank, said he was puzzled by the choice of Thirith instead of someone closer to the party. “He needs to have had some loyalty to the CPP to have done well in the judiciary,” Virak speculated.
However, speaking yesterday, Thirith dismissed suggestions he was politically aligned. He said he applied to seek a new experience after a 25-year legal career, which has included high-profile rulings that went in the face of government interests.
Among the controversial decisions he made as a Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge were the conviction of Hun Sen’s nephew for involuntary manslaughter and the scrapping of charges against two “scapegoat” suspects held for the murder of union official Chea Vichea, both in 2004.
He was subsequently removed from the position.
“I don’t know about the reason that the CNRP elected me, because I am not a member of any political party, I applied for the position as I am a bride, therefore any individual political party can marry me if he loves me,” Thirith, who stressed his independence, said.