The National Election Committee yesterday announced the formation of a pared-down sub-committee to investigate election irregularities after the CNRP boycotted a scheduled meeting to discuss the mandate of a joint investigation.
The opposition cited the NEC’s reluctance to allow international involvement as the reason for its boycott. The election body has maintained outside groups can participate only as observers, not investigators.
The move came only one day after the opposition, the ruling party and the NEC held a closed-door meeting, after which the NEC announced that all parties had cordially agreed to form a joint investigation.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy wrote to NEC president Im Suosdey on Saturday, praising the initial meeting as a positive step but requesting the direct participation of the UN as a “referee” in any investigation.
Suosdey told reporters yesterday that the NEC would create a three-person committee under its own auspices to investigate electoral complaints.
“We have much regret [about the CNRP’s boycott] but the NEC will still proceed according to the law.... I don’t know how I can invite the United Nations. This is outside my jurisdiction. The constitution states that the NEC is responsible for the election,” he said.
The CNRP’s decision to boycott yesterday’s meeting led the CPP to also not attend in response, NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said. Despite that, both parties were welcome to join the NEC committee if they wished, Suosdey added.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that his party would not accept a joint committee composed of only NEC, CPP and CNRP members as the NEC is under the thumb of the ruling party.
“The NEC and the [Cambodian People’s Party] cannot solve the problem themselves because they are part of the problem. So we need a third party like the UN to be a referee,” Sovann said. “[We all] want to create the committee ... but the difference is in the composition [of members]. [So] now we have withdrawn because the composition does not include [active] representatives from the UN and civil society.”
A draft plan deemed unacceptable by the CNRP proposes a committee of five NEC members and one each from the two political parties, with local NGO representatives as observers, Sovann added.
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said the establishment of a committee or sub-committee was solely under the remit of the NEC, adding that the CPP would be happy to cooperate with the NEC’s new plan.
“What [Sam Rainsy] demands is out of date. Cambodia 2013 is not 1992-1993 Cambodia. The situation now is very far away [from that].”
Minister of Information and CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith insisted, however, that the original investigation was going ahead as planned.
“There will be an investigation involving NEC, the political parties in the election process and local [NGOs]. UN could be an observer (or witness),” he said in an email.
Philip Sen, communications officer at the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator, said yesterday that the United Nations had not been asked to join any investigation committee.
“To date the United Nations has not been approached by any of the entities concerned to discuss a proposed investigation committee. Nor has it received any formal request to participate in any capacity,” he said.
A statement issued on Friday by the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a transparent investigation into electoral complaints.
The Australian Greens party also on Thursday called for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to join the US government in “supporting calls for an independent investigation into election irregularities”.
Koul Panha, executive director at election watchdog Comfrel, said yesterday that the NEC “really has no intention” to carry out an independent and effective investigation.
“In actual practice the NEC does not have so many effective election [dispute] mechanisms. They only have mechanisms to receive complaints and hold hearings. They don’t have investigative mechanisms,” he said.
UN and civil society involvement could bolster the investigative process and offer expert advice and support, Panha added.
“The NEC wants to keep them as observers, but that is not rational,” he said.
In Kampong Cham’s Srei Santhor district yesterday, Sam Rainsy told supporters that in the next few weeks the political situation in Cambodia would have to change, hinting none too subtly at the consequences of a continued impasse.
“In that case, please all people [throughout Cambodia] ... we will organise the biggest mass demonstration in history. But this time we must rescue our nation successfully,” he said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann was more noncommittal about what could happen next.
“I will discuss with three million voters what they will do now. I cannot tell you anything [yet]. We have to discuss. We want to negotiate to solve the problem, but [the NEC] wants to negotiate not to solve the problem. That is the difference” he said.