The ruling Cambodian People’s Party wants to remove provisions in the Commune Election Law punishing intimidation, vote buying and partisan civil servants and soldiers, a round-table discussion on electoral reform heard yesterday.
The punitive articles are among five points contested by CPP and Cambodia National Rescue Party working groups currently negotiating amendments to the 2007 Commune Election Law, according to Ket Khy, one of the CNRP’s negotiators.
Khy said two articles, one punishing vote buying and candidate intimidation and the other penalising public employees and armed forces personnel for acting on behalf of parties, were in the crosshairs of the CPP.
“We’re worried about vote buying or buying candidates or threatening candidates, some communes are far away . . . so threatening takes place more often in the capital,” Khy said, adding that it was not unheard-of for people to be paid not to run.
“In remote areas, somebody always buys candidates off the list.”
A number of reports of soldiers, police and public officials campaigning for the ruling party emerged during the disputed 2013 national ballot.
A revised National Election Law, passed in March, drew criticism for inadequately addressing partisan public officials. It banned police, soldiers and civil servants from getting involved with election campaigns – but only when they were on duty.
Off-duty or out-of-uniform unarmed personnel are free to campaign, according to the law.
The CPP had not responded to the criticisms of its position as of press time.
Suggested tweaks to the Commune Law – which will ultimately be decided by party leaders, according to Khy – are supposed to bring it into line with the new national legislation.
However, parties are still stuck on five points. The three others concern shortening the campaign period from 15 to 10 days, authority over hanging political banners and not allowing political marches to cross commune boundaries – a restriction the CPP says is necessary for public order, but the CNRP says it will curtail their campaigning.
At yesterday’s event at the Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh run by the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA), civil society groups and other stakeholders weighed in on the debate.
A central theme – and among the ERA’s 10 recommendations – was allowing independent candidates to stand for commune councils.
Moderator Koul Pahna – who also suggested changing seat allocation to allow proportional representation rather than winner-takes-all outcomes – said “we have to allow independent candidates so communities can be represented”.
Also put forward was a requirement for parties to disclose their campaign donations and expenditures, limits on campaign spending and quotas for women and young commune representatives.
The bipartisan National Election Committee will in November begin trialling a digitised voter registration system.
A CNRP representative yesterday said the system would counter concerns about partisan commune chiefs and clerks being tasked with organising voter lists.