Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Draft Election Law gives Interior sole power

Draft Election Law gives Interior sole power

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Draft Election Law gives Interior sole power

THE Ministry of Interior shall have virtually sole responsibility for organizing,

controlling and monitoring next year's scheduled commune elections, according to

a draft law.

The March 1996 draft - written by the ministry but yet to be approved by co-Ministers

Sar Kheng and You Hockry - provides for no independent electoral bodies.

It envisages a National Electoral Commission, headed by the Ministers, comprised

of representatives of the ministry and "relevant units" or "various

quarters", according to different English translations given the Post.

It does not directly provide for representatives of NGOs, political parties or independent

advisers.

The commission's duties will include coordinating the elections, training electoral

officers, resolving disputes and monitoring the ballot to ensure "freedom, fairness,

justice and democratic conditions."

The national commission shall appoint provincial/municipal electoral commissions

- which will in turn set up local electoral commission offices - as well as provincial/municipal

electoral monitoring commissions.

Local offices will be in charge of collecting and counting votes. The counting can

be witnessed by a representative of each candidate and by national and international

NGOs.

Existing commune chiefs - most of whom were appointed by the former communist regime

run by the predecessor to the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) - will establish voter

lists and propose polling station sites.

The law - which will for the first time allow Cambodians to elect their chiefs in

1,500 rural communes and urban sangkats - is widely expected to be the model for

another law covering the 1998 national elections. In March, co-Minister of Interior

Sar Kheng said the ministry's program for the national elections would be similar

to the commune preparations.

The draft commune law says Khmer citizens - the definition of a Khmer citizen is

yet to be made in another law - over the age of 18 can vote, but must have lived

in their commune for at least a year.

Election candidates must be aged at least 25 and have lived in the same commune for

five years or more. There is no requirement that candidates, who will be elected

under a simple majority system, belong to a political party.

To be eligible to stand, candidates must submit a list of supporters totaling at

least 5 percent of their commune's voting population.

People barred from being candidates include public servants removed from their jobs

for disciplinary reasons in the past five years.

Candidates who became naturalized citizens less than 10 years ago, and those who

"reclaimed" their nationality less than five years ago, are also prohibited.

There is no definition of what reclaiming citizenship means or, for example, whether

the category would apply to Cambodians who fled the country during the Vietnamese

occupation.

Ministry of Interior officials have denied that the prohibitions are aimed at Funcinpec

politicians and others such as Sam Rainsy of the Khmer Nation Party, but several

NGO observers called for the clauses to be clarified or removed.

One foreign lawyer questioned the lack of independence in the election organization,

with the Ministry of Interior and existing commune officials dominating the process.

For instance, the law provides for complaints about people left off voter or candidate

lists to be made to commune or district officials, or the provincial electoral commissions.

If unresolved, the National Electoral Commission can rule on the complaints.

The law envisages a 10-day election campaign period, and calls for newspapers and

provincial radio and television stations to allocate equal coverage to candidates.

Anyone who uses coercion or "tricks" to solicits votes can go to jail for

two years, and people who commit crimes while campaigning can be charged under Cambodia's

criminal law.

One provision in the law touches on the thorny issue of whether Cambodian residents

of Vietnamese or other foreign ancestry will be deemed eligible to vote. It says

that the Ministry of Interior can directly appoint commune chiefs in communes where

three-fifths of the population do not have Khmer nationality.

A final draft of the law is expected to be approved by the Ministers next month,

before going to the Council of Ministers and eventually the National Assembly.

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