Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC revisions head for Nat. Assembly

NEC revisions head for Nat. Assembly

NEC revisions head for Nat. Assembly

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

than NGOs]."

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

run.

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."

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