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Revision to Law on Political Parties could trigger NEC resignation

Rong Chhun speaks to the press about the National Election Committee’s voter registration last year in Phnom Penh.
Rong Chhun speaks to the press about the National Election Committee’s voter registration last year in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Revision to Law on Political Parties could trigger NEC resignation

An opposition-appointed member of the National Election Committee yesterday threatened to resign if Prime Minister Hun Sen succeeds in his controversial proposal to amend the law to dissolve parties whose members are convicted of wrongdoing.

Decrying the potential damage to competition and fairness, former union leader Rong Chhun, one of nine members of the bipartisan NEC, said he could not, in good conscience, oversee an election if the CPP adopted the changes to the 1997 Law on Political Parties. A ruling party spokesman yesterday said the changes would be drafted by the week’s end.

“To dissolve a political party that has seats in parliament or has half of the population’s support, I could not bear, in the name of an arbitrator, to see the whistle blown with only one party competing with a small party or alone,” said Chhun, stressing his remarks were prompted by concern, not bias for any party.

“If there’s a law to dissolve one party, perhaps the CNRP first, then another party gains popularity and competes with the ruling party. Would it be dissolved next?” he asked.

“I want to see the presence of all political parties competing against each other in a fair, just and professional manner.”

Reached yesterday, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said Chhun’s comments were his own, stating the body would not “interfere” in other government institutions.

The NEC, currently working against the clock to organise the 2017 commune and 2018 national elections, was overhauled in 2015 as part of a political deal brokered the year before to end the CNRP’s boycott of parliament following the disputed 2013 ballot.

Each party chose four candidates for the nine-member committee, with former elections watchdog Puthea named the ninth and “neutral” member. In the case Chunn did resign, Puthea said the CNRP would get to choose his replacement from a list of candidates solicited by the parliament’s permanent committee.

But even so, the former unionist’s departure would, at least temporarily, disrupt the committee at a crucial time and could delay the elections, said Sam Kuntheamy, director of election monitor group NICFEC.

Questions over Chhun’s future at the NEC – which was also thrown into doubt last year when it emerged he was still under investigation in a case widely considered politically motivated – add yet more uncertainty to a tense political environment.

The premier’s proposal in a February 2 speech built on an earlier request on January 29 to change the same law to bar anyone with a criminal conviction from leading a political party.

Observers say both moves are clearly aimed at the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has several members, including exiled president Sam Rainsy, convicted in cases widely considered politically motivated. Koul Panha, director of election watchdog Comfrel, yesterday labelled the proposal a “serious violation” of the country’s constitution.

Meanwhile, George Edgar, ambassador for the EU – which has pledged 10 million euros to support the elections – called for authorities to ensure free political competition and hold elections that “command the confidence of the voters”.

The CPP, however, appeared undeterred, with party spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday saying the party would finishing drafting the amendments this week.

“After that, we will send it to the National Assembly,” he said. “We are collecting thumbprints from more than 30 lawmakers” required to submit the proposed amendment, he added.

Rainsy, who fled to France in November 2015 to avoid arrest in a case widely considered political and has since been slapped with several lawsuits, has previously criticised the proposed amendments.

Yesterday, however, the CNRP president appeared to strike a more conciliatory tone, posting to Facebook a video of him sharing a stage with Hun Sen in Malaysia earlier in 2015, when the pair were enjoying a period of détente dubbed the “culture of dialogue”.

However, Rainsy maintained via email yesterday that the post, accompanied by the text “we must learn to live together”, was not an attempt to reach out to his rival but to “remind people that things can be different and can evolve positively”.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING SHAUN TURTON

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