Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Neutral' Kassie Neou may get boot from NEC

'Neutral' Kassie Neou may get boot from NEC

'Neutral' Kassie Neou may get boot from NEC

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National Election Committee (NEC) Vice-Chairman Kassie Neou is facing imminent dismissal

for being 'too rigid' and not serving the intereasts of Funcinpec in the run up to

the commune elections.

Kassie Neou - "Too rigid".

Sources say that Co-Minister of Interior You Hockry (Fun) has made clear his dissatisfaction

with Neou's performance at the NEC and will nominate Thoam Bunsron, former governor

of Kampong Som province and currently an advisor to Prince Ranariddh, to replace

Neou.

A senior official in the Ministry of Interior said the government had already recommended

Neou's dismissal to the National Assembly.

"It is for the Parliament to decide who will replace whom," the official

said.

Cambodian election monitoring organizations regard Neou as the most neutral member

of the 11-member NEC. Neou, the founding director of the Cambodian Institute for

Human Rights, has been noted for taking a mainly non-partisan approach to NEC affairs.

Sek Sophal, Executive Director of the Coalition For Free and Fair Elections (COFFEL),

said Neou's neutrality was well acknowledged by civil society and that he enjoyed

the confidence of both national and international communities in maintaining a balance

in his public and government roles.

"He has a thorough understanding of Cambodian electoral system. His removal

at this stage (of electoral preparations) will not be good," Sophal said.

Although the NEC was conceived as a neutral, non-partisan arbiter of election-related

issues, it has been highly politicized since its inception in 1998 with the top posts

of chairman and vice-chairman assigned to CPP and Funcinpec appointees.

The NEC was widely criticized in the aftermath of the 1998 national elections for

its failure to adequately address electoral irregularities and allegations of fraud.

Neou's impending ouster comes in the wake of strong protests by opposition law makers

that the electoral body had been hijacked by CPP loyalists hand-picked to do the

party's bidding during the election process.

"We have nominated our candidate for the NEC board. But despite our repeated

reminders, the NEC continues to take important decisions and make appointments without

involving us in the process...naturally for manipulating the situation to benefit

the CPP," Sam Rainsy Party Senator Ou Bun Long said.

Neou is believed to have incurred the wrath of CPP NEC members for insisting that

the NEC have representatives from all political parties with seats in the National

Assembly as mandated by law.

The NEC has to date refused to admit a member from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

Neou would neither confirm nor deny that he was to be relieved of his NEC position.

When asked for comment on the government's reported dissatisfaction with his performance,

Neou said he was merely working in accordance with the law in a non-partisan manner,

"...just as is expected of the NEC vice-chairman."

Senior Funcinpec party members confirmed that a successor for Neou had been mooted,

but refused to confirm when Neou would be officially replaced.

"The candidature [of Thoam Bunsrom] has not been finalized yet," said Kong

Vibol, a Funcinpec National Council member. "I cannot speculate on the issue

right now."

Blow to credibility

Neou's dismissal is described by election monitoring organizations as a further

critical blow to NEC credibility, making it even more susceptible to political manipulation.

"To keep the body non-partisan and non-political, the present system of nominating

candidates from political parties or the Interior Ministry should be done away with,"

said Panha Koul of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel).

"...politicians or government officers should have nothing to do with the electoral

body."

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