Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - One election down, one to go

One election down, one to go

One election down, one to go

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

province.

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

aspects."

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

faster.

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

secretary-general."

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

Nguon said.

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."

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