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Election committee reforms could prove difficult

Election committee reforms could prove difficult

There is little doubt that reform is needed at the National Election Committee, the

body that oversees Cambodia's elections, but there is uncertainty over how successful

the reforms proposed by Funcinpec, the government's coalition partner, will be.

Funcinpec's Keo Remy, who drafted the amendments to the law governing the NEC, felt

his changes would strengthen the body. Among his suggestions was a revised six-member

NEC board with two members from each of the three main parties. Seven of the 11 members

were effectively appointed by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

Observers from civil society felt appointing anyone with political affiliations was

missing the point.

"The new amendments will bring justice for all the political parties,"

Remy countered. "What we need is a middle point that is acceptable to all political

parties."

The NEC was criticized by observers after February's commune elections for being

partial towards the CPP. The proposed amendments will need to be approved by the

CPP-dominated National Assembly.

That, Remy admitted, could prove awkward. Approval would require a majority vote

in favor, and the CPP holds most of the Assembly's 122 seats. Funcinpec has 43 seats

and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) has 15. Funcinpec's amendments would therefore

require the support of at least some CPP parliamentarians.

"I have a 50 percent hope that our proposal will meet with success in the NA,"

said Remy. "I am hopeful that the donors and international community will support

these amendments and push it forward."

UK Ambassador Stephen Bridges told the Post April 25 that although it was possible

the issue would feature on the agenda of the donor group meeting, scheduled for June,

it "is certainly not on my agenda".

"The NEC needs to be reformed, helped and supported to help it make the transition

to become a truly independent commission," he said. "Whatever proposals

are put forward and adopted by the National Assembly are fine."

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said his party needed more time to review the NEC law

and the Funcinpec proposals before he could comment on whether or not it supported

the changes.

"We also have proposals to amend the election law," he said, but would

not elaborate further.

Koy Bunroeun, the SRP's NEC representative, said amending the NEC law was key if

Cambodia wanted a genuine democracy and elections free from violence and intimidation.

In reality, though, any change could prove difficult.

"The Funcinpec proposal for these amendments is a good idea," said Bunroeun.

"But I think that it will be difficult to get this passed [through the National

Assembly]. Their demands are too steep."

The president of human rights group Licadho, Kek Galabru, said reform should result

in an entirely independent NEC such as exists in the Philippines.

"Elections are for the people throughout the country, not for only a few groups,"

said Galabru. "Elections have to be seen by Cambodians as free and fair, and

to achieve that the organizers have to be neutral."

"Members of the NEC should not be party members," said Galabru. "In

a population of 11 million we [should be able to] find five trustworthy people to

lead the NEC."

The National Assembly meets again May 12. Any reform of the NEC needs to be completed

eleven months before the next election, flagged for June 2003.

Other amendments in the Funcinpec proposal would reform the provincial and local

level election commissions. Amendment 3 removes from the NEC control of voter registration

and hands it to commune authorities.

Amendment 5 prohibits parties distributing gifts to prevent vote-buying. Amendment

6 ensures equal access by all parties to the media. Another requires the NEC, not

local police, to provide security at polling stations on election day to reduce fears

of intimidation.

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