A member of the much-maligned National Election Committee said yesterday he hoped that the body would cease to be merely a “paper tiger” and be granted strong powers to punish political parties for electoral transgressions when future election reforms are put in place.
Speaking at the NEC headquarters in the Ministry of Interior during a meeting with political parties ahead of next month’s sub-national council elections, Mean Satik, who presided over the meeting, lamented that the committee was not able to take action against politicians and their parties, beyond fines and forcing a negotiated solution, when they violate the election law or campaign procedure.
Comparing Cambodia to neighbouring Thailand – where the election commission has broad legal powers to investigate and indict individuals for election law offences – Satik said he hoped the NEC would in the future have more power.
”We will try very hard to make [political parties] respect the law according to our ability outlined in the law and [we] hope that when [Cambodia] creates new laws [in the future], the NEC will be offered complete powers and have the rights to govern other institutions,” he said.
The ruling Cambodian People’s Party and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party have reportedly agreed to a complete overhaul of the NEC and how its members are appointed before the next national election, a key demand of the CNRP and election watchdogs, which have accused the body of being beholden to the CPP.
“My NEC, I know already, will be changed in the next mandate,” Satik continued.
“[We] hope that the coming laws will be strong and give power to the NEC to govern other institutions so that [the NEC] can become a real tiger and not the dead tiger or paper tiger [that it has been].”
Ouk Suy, president of the electoral wing of the CNRP, was present during the discussion and welcomed Satik’s comments, saying that more power was needed for a group controlled by the ruling CPP.
“A paper tiger means that [the NEC] does not have power,” he said.
In response, Satik moved to clarify that electoral problems had “always been enforced” by the committee according to existing laws and that he was not saying the NEC had no powers at all.
Koul Panha, director at elections watchdog Comfrel, said that the NEC would not be able to challenge government interference until it was made a constitutionally mandated body.
He added, however, that its members’ seeming lack of commitment to tackle election fraud, rather than simply what powers they have, was also a serious issue.
“I think if they had more commitment they could make a big difference. However there is some truth that the law does not give them a clear mandate and power in terms of being able to challenge the interference of the government,” he said.
At yesterday’s meeting the NEC outlined regulations for the May 2-16 election campaign period ahead of the May 18 elections, which see sitting commune councillors vote for district, city and provincial councillors.
Its instructions included, in a clear reference to the opposition, that parties do not mask demonstrations as part of campaigning and refrain from permanently occupying public places.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH