THE National Election Committee (NEC) wiped its hands of
Election '98 on Aug 11 when it referred opposition
complaints to the Constitutional Council, but the
committee is already turning its attention to the commune
elections that could be held as early as next year.
The commune polls will hold a new set of challenges for
the NEC. There will be almost 1,600 separate commune
elections to organize. Winners will be calculated on a
majority-rule basis, rather than by proportional
representation, as was the national election.
As a result, much more responsibility will fall on the
shoulders of the commune election commissions.
Many legal and technical issues also remain unresolved.
The commune election law has sat on the Interior
Ministry's back burner since the decision was made to
hold the national election first.
Basic questions such as whether only the commune chief
will be elected or the entire commune council are still
be being debated. Some have even suggested opening up the
election to include district chiefs as well.
As commune-level polls are organized, the experience
gained in the first Cambodian-run election in more than
two decades will go a long way. The NEC is already
attempting to maximize the lessons learned by holding a
series of post-election review workshops in each
NEC member Do Kong Nguon said national election staff
will travel around the country in August and September to
meet with provincial and commune election commissions to
ask what worked well and what did not work well during
the parliamentary polls.
And if the election budget permits, the NEC will hold a
national-level workshop in Phnom Penh in mid-September,
an election technician said. Political party
representatives and election observer groups will be
invited to the two-day meeting to get every possible
opinion on "how we can improve".
The NEC is also turning a critical eye on itself as
members wrestle with the question of why the NEC almost
tore itself apart over the handful of recounts done in
the week following polling day.
"I would say that there is a lot of room for
improvement," NEC member Tip Jahnvibol said.
"The legal structure in the NEC has to be
strengthened... Legal matters were given a low priority
compared to financial matters and technical
Several senior-level election workers advocated shrinking
the 11-member NEC to three to five members in the hope
that the body would become more decisive and react
Funcinpec is already expected to wage a political battle
for the removal of NEC member Tea Chamrath - who did not
follow Prince Norodom Ranariddh into self-exile - as the
royalist party's representative.
But any change of the NEC's membership in time for the
commune polls will have to be done soon. The national
election law states that the Ministry of Interior must
submit names of proposed new NEC members to the Council
of Ministers at least 11 months before election day.
The recount tussle that saw NEC Vice Chairman Kassie Neou
resign from the Election Results Control Commission has
at least one NEC source calling for a weakening of the
power of non-elected senior election staffers.
The election insider, who spoke on condition of
anonymity, said orders by the recount commission to NEC
Secretary-General Im Suorsdei and other department heads
were sometimes ignored. He also complained that some
sensitive decisions were made by non-elected staff
without the entire NEC's knowledge.
"It was a mistake to include the secretary-general
as the top of the executive and the NEC as the board of
directors," the source contended. "I think the
chain of command was stuck with the
But along with some bad came a lot of good, many NEC
members agreed. "The NEC had only a short time and a
tight budget, but because of the working spirit of the
entire election staff and the Cambodian electorate we
were able to make a great achievement," Do Kong
NEC member You Kan said the fact that there was no
violence - barring a Khmer Rouge attack in Anlong Veng
which killed 11 people - was almost a surprise and that
there was less voter intimidation and more free movement
of the opposition than many expected.
Tip Jahnvibol roundly praised the entire election staff
and said that the overall effort during Election '98 was
a promising start for the commune election.
"Many people were committed to this election and
wanted it to be successful," he said. "It
proved that the Cambodians can do it by themselves. We
have trained 70,000 [staff] on the basics of elections
and democracy. That is a big investment."