Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC body to fight bad press

NEC body to fight bad press

A motorist passes in front of the National Election Committee headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district.
A motorist passes in front of the National Election Committee headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district. Pha Lina

NEC body to fight bad press

Amid accusations of bias in favour of the ruling party – and following the removal of the main opposition party from the electoral field – the National Election Committee has announced the creation of a new press reaction team to “attack back at negative points”.

The ostensibly independent electoral body – which was reformed after the 2013 national elections to include four members appointed by the ruling party and four by the opposition, with one “neutral” member – appeared to tilt in favour of the ruling party last month following the Supreme Court’s widely condemned decision to dissolve the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

In response to that ruling, three NEC members nominated by the CNRP resigned. They were replaced by picks from two minor parties and Dim Sovannarom, deputy director of the government’s human rights council and, a former colleague said last week, a previous campaign manager for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

According to the NEC statement, the press reaction team is under the command of CPP-nominated Chairman Sik Bun Hok. The head of the unit is Som Sorida, another ruling party-nominated member of the board. The body’s official spokesman and “neutral” member, Hang Puthea, was not listed as being involved.

Among the group’s tasks are “collecting information published on public media to analyse the negative points which defame the reputation of the NEC, making the public confused”, and “replying in writing in case there are negative points in news relating to the NEC”.

The committee will also suggest to the chairman “ways to take action to block and prevent negative news”.

The team’s first public statement, before the creation of the body was announced, hit back at accusations of bias while parroting ruling party officials’ frequent warnings of “colour revolution” – a narrative used to target the opposition – even though the committee is by design supposed to avoid politicisation.

Yesterday election monitors expressed concern that the election body could simply become another government institution wielded to attack critics.

Sam Kuntheamy, director of election monitor Nicfec, saw the move as an overreaction to criticism, and an attempt at intimidation.

“I think they are putting pressure on the media,” he said, adding “the media should have freedom to release information”.

“In the past they had a spokesman, so they don’t need a new group,” he said. NEC spokesman Puthea could not be reached yesterday. Rong Chhun, one of the CNRP-nominated members of the committee who resigned in protest, also questioned the purpose of the group.

“In my view, it is not necessary for the NEC because it already has an information department . . . We don’t know the real intention for making this group,” he said.

Yoeurng Sotheara, legal expert at election watchdog Comfrel, said the NEC should “open up to whatever criticism, suggestions and recommendations that are to improve the NEC to operate independently”.

“If they create this unit and just fight back against criticism and try to create reasons to fight back against civil society . . . that would be bad,” Sotheara said.

When asked if the NEC is still independent, he replied: “There is no more balance of power.”

The dissolution of the CNRP has also raised questions about international support for the elections, funding for which goes through the NEC. The US pulled its funding immediately after the ruling to dissolve the CNRP, but no other countries have done so.

European Union Ambassador George Edgar said yesterday that cutting funds to the NEC was under consideration, but “a formal decision has not yet been taken whether we will continue or suspend”.

Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Demining rat ‘hero’ Magawa dead at 8

    A landmine-hunting rat that was awarded a gold medal for heroism for clearing ordnance from the Cambodian countryside has died, his charity said on January 11. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat originally from Tanzania, helped clear mines from about 225,000sqm of land – the equivalent of 42

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer