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NEC seeks regular meetings to dispel bias suspicions

Members of the NEC attend a meeting at the Ministry of Interior in February. The NEC has said it will hold frequent meetings with civil society to assure them of unbiased operation.
Members of the NEC attend a meeting at the Ministry of Interior in February. The NEC has said it will hold frequent meetings with civil society to assure them of unbiased operation. Pha Lina

NEC seeks regular meetings to dispel bias suspicions

Cambodia’s election body has called for regular meetings with political parties, journalists and civil society organisations (CSOs) in a bid to stave off suspicions of bias as two of its non-CPP aligned officials face prosecution.

National Election Committee (NEC) spokesperson Hang Puthea, the independent member of the bipartisan body, requested NEC President Sik Bun Hok meet fortnightly with the groups.

Puthea said the motivation was for the groups to discuss issues “candidly”, but one human rights consultant suggested the meetings could amount to quelling dissent. Puthea went on to say CSOs and the media should use the meetings to ask for clarity, rather than publishing bad press.

“Don’t use the language to interpret based on your feelings,” Puthea said. “I’m speaking about the delay of voter registration; I emphasise that the reasons are because the NEC has not received equipment to operate the registration. But some argue it is political, that the NEC does not want to organise the election.”

The NEC, comprising four appointees by the CPP and four from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has been plagued by multiple delays in registering voters.

Recently, NEC Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya, a former official for human rights group Adhoc, was arrested and charged alongside four human rights workers last month for allegedly bribing a witness in a case involving CNRP acting president Kem Sokha.

Since then, CNRP-appointed member Rong Chhun has also seen two-year-old charges of “intentional violence” resurrected pertaining to his alleged role in 2014 protests where five people were shot dead by security forces.

Two other CNRP appointees to the NEC have said they fear the lawsuits would further set back their electoral work.

Independent rights consultant Billy Tai said the NEC’s repeated delays in voter registration did not bode well, with commune elections coming up in just over a year.

“It is very concerning . . . the CPP [Cambodian People’s Party] is systematically picking off the other half of the NEC,” he said.

Tai said the NEC needed to give journalists and civil society a concrete plan of action to convince them the body would not crumble. “What are they going to do to keep the institution neutral?” he said.

He suspected the meetings would become a “forum to lay down more warnings – ‘stop writing these stories, stop inciting people to demonstrate’”.

“I cannot imagine the CPP will accept any other result than a comprehensive win over the next election cycle.”

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