Long-serving secretary-general of the National Election Committee Tep Nytha, whose tenure has been marred by allegations of election fraud and ruling party bias, was yesterday reappointed to the position, despite the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party long calling for his removal.
The new nine-member NEC, overhauled last April to include four members appointed by each of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition CNRP and a ninth neutral member, chose Nytha, 61, over two other candidates short-listed for the publicly advertised position.
Announcing the decision at a press conference at the NEC office, NEC president Sik Bun Hok said the group – which had not interviewed at least one of the short-listed candidates – had followed correct procedure and reached a consensus.
“The decision was made by a majority opinion, it was not decided by voting,” Bun Hok, a former CPP lawmaker, said. “We asked for the opinion of, and consulted with, the nine members of the NEC.”
Justifying the decision, Bun Hok said the most important factor in Nytha’s selection was his ability to get the job done.
“This work is not acceptable for anyone who comes and needs to learn it, it is not acceptable [for just anyone] because it does not respond to what the law requires the NEC to do,” he said.
The CNRP yesterday released a statement saying they “deeply regretted” the appointment, stating that, as with past elections, Nytha would undermine confidence in the upcoming ballot.
“The NEC, as an independent institution, should select secretary candidates with characters that would benefit its work,” the statement read.
However, it appeared at least one CNRP-appointed member backed Nytha, who could not be reached yesterday.
Neutral member, Hang Puthea said his endorsement yesterday was irrelevant because the group had already reached “a 50 per cent plus one” decision.While not saying whether he supported Nytha, CNRP-appointed deputy NEC president Kuoy Bunroeun said he would “respect” the decision, noting the secretary-general was merely the assistant to the committee, which could fire any NEC staff member who defied its authority.
NEC member Ron Chhung, a former union leader appointed by the CNRP, said he did not support Nytha’s re-election, though he would not reveal who did. He also noted that legislation stipulated the secretary-general was subservient to the committee.
Te Manirong, an NEC member appointed by the CNRP, refused to say who she supported, while former judge Hing Thirith, also appointed by the opposition, was unreachable.
“I’ve always believed that Tep Nytha would retake the position because the CPP wants it, and they seem to have an upper hand in the NEC,” said political analyst Ou Virak yesterday.
“There could be a deal also.” Nytha was made NEC secretary-general in 2002 and oversaw the 2003, 2008 and 2013 national elections, which were all clouded by accusations of fraud. He was previously on the CPP Youth Propaganda Committee.
The CNRP boycotted parliament for almost a year after disputing the results of the 2013 election. They took their 55 seats in the National Assembly in July 2014 after the parties agreed to Election Law and NEC reform.
“This will really affect confidence in the new NEC reforms,” Koul Panha, head of election watchdog Comfrel said. “This will affect public perception, but also performance if the NEC goes back to the old way of working without transparency, accountability and without responding to the public’s concerns about irregularities and problems.”
With commune elections just over a year away, and a national ballot in 2018, the NEC is working against the clock to organise new voter lists and implement a digital voting system. Nytha, as head of the NEC’s executive arm, will implement the committee’s decisions, overseeing finance and administration.
According to yesterday’s announcement, his deputy secretaries will be current NEC members Mao Sophearith and Som Sorida, who will handle voter lists and legal services respectively; Ny Chakrya from rights group Adhoc, tasked with internal auditing; and Mok Dara, in charge of communication.
More than 100 people applied for the secretary and deputy positions. Heng Monychenda, 56, the director of NGO Buddhism for Development, among the three shortlisted for the top job, was not interviewed or consulted after submitting his application but said he still had faith in the system.
“At the end of the day, they have to answer to the Khmer people,” Monychenda said.