The Council of Ministers approved a controversial amendment to the Electoral Law
on July 26 to allow the Ministry of Interior to determine the composition of the
National Election Committee (NEC).
The next step will see the changes sent to the National Assembly, which will likely
deliver the majority vote required to modify the law.
The amendment, which was at the behest of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was criticized
by some lawmakers and election NGOs as an attempt by the ruling Cambodian People's
Party to ensure a compliant NEC ahead of next year's general election. However Hun
Sen dismissed such criticisms.
"The amendment which was passed by the CoM is a good one," he said. "I
am pleased that the coalition government has ensured a smooth compromise on this
political and legal measure. The Constitution gives the power to government [rather
The NEC was widely criticized for bias towards the ruling CPP after both the 1998
general election and the commune election which was held earlier this year. Civil
society, some parliamentarians and donors had wanted changes made to the way it was
CoM spokesman Pen Thol told journalists that 67 articles of the Electoral Law have
been amended. The articles governing the NEC are part of that law, and under the
new Article 13 the MoI has the right to appoint five 'dignitaries'.
The amendment states that the five must have practical experience in politics, must
be free of mistakes in civil and political rights, and have no criminal record. Thol
said the interior ministry had to submit the list of proposed members to the CoM
nine months before election day, which is slated for July 27, 2003.
Kek Galabru, head of election monitor NICFEC, said civil society was unhappy with
the outcome, but would not push the issue further for now.
"There is now no chance we will have an independent body ahead of the general
election, but we will try again in time for the following one," said Galabru.
"We don't have the power [to amend the law] - what we did was try to raise our
ideas to government. We regret that our opinions were ignored."
The CPP amendment was in response to a proposal by its coalition partner Funcinpec,
supported by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which called for a six member NEC with
two representatives from each party.
The president of Funcinpec, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, told reporters July 31 the
royalist party was left with no choice as the CPP had rejected its proposals, as
had civil society and donor countries.
"I spent much time talking with Hun Sen and both [the CPP and Funcinpec] agreed
that the [CPP's proposal] would guarantee a balance between the needs of Cambodians
and the demands of donor countries," he said.
The SRP's election spokesman, Senator Ou Bun Long, said he would examine the CPP
amendment and believed the National Assembly's Standing Committee would insist on
changes. He felt the amendment provided another opportunity for the ruling party
to influence elections.
"I need to see free and fair elections," said Bun Long. "The draft
is not acceptable because it still serves the interests of the CPP."
Eric Kessler, resident representative of National Democratic Institute, told the
Post on July 31 that the amendment had been negotiated by two political parties,
which most stakeholders would feel was not credible.
"It is unfortunate that the first action [to change the law] appears to take
credibility away from the election," said Kessler.
"The process excluded most of the stakeholders and included only those two who
do not live up to any international standards."
He said that in the last four months stakeholders had come forward and been open
with the recommendations they wanted to see implemented. That trust, he said, appeared
to have been betrayed by the closed-door process.
Kessler said it marked an unfortunate way to begin the run up to next year's election,
which people were optimistic would start well.
"But we haven't seen any reason for optimism yet. Building credibility in elections
and the elected officials is critical to the development of any country," he
said. "Without that credibility you create a traumatic opportunity for conflict,
and I can say the first step taken by the government does not add credibility to
the election process."