A GROUP of NGOs, students associations and civil society groups are concerned the
planned law governing commune elections will eliminate all potential candidates other
than those put forward by the CPP or its coalition partner Funcinpec.
Leaders of the student wings of the Khmer Youth Association (KYA), Students Movement
for Democracy (SMD), United Neutral Khmer Students (UNKS), and Khmer Democratic Youth
Association (KDYA) held a press conference on August 26 to condemn the proportional
representation system that would be established by the law.
Under the new law, which was approved by the Council of Ministers on August 18, people
would vote for a party rather than an individual: it would remove the ability for
people to run independent of a political party.
Yet an extensive survey suggests 80 percent of people in the provinces want to be
able to vote for individuals.
In addition, the groups said they feared the opposition Sam Rainsy Party will effectively
be squeezed out of the race through violence and intimidation.
The KYA President Yong Kim Eng said the exclusion of individual candidates is a step
backwards for the advancement of Cambodia.
He said individual candidates would have been more likely to support decentralization,
rural development and the building up of basic democracy.
Kim Eng quoted the Government as saying the commune elections were a means of improving
development in rural areas. However he and his student colleagues said the Government
did not back up such statements with actions.
"Politicians still lack the will to heed the voice of the people, as demonstrated
by the action of the Council of Ministers in approving the current draft law, which
specifies the proportional system as the fundamental basis for holding the commune
council elections," the group said in a statement.
Kim Eng said their most serious concern about proportional representation was that
it would mean commune officials would have party loyalty as their first priority
and concern for the people a distant second.
Kim Eng said many university graduates were interested in standing as independents
for commune positions but would now be excluded.
"I don't know why the Government wants to keep a proportional system, but my
speculation is that both CPP and Funcinpec want to keep the lion's share of power
for themselves," he said.
"Serious efforts are needed to avoid politicization of commune administration
and structures, which otherwise are likely to lead to considerable conflict accompanied
by local killings."
The importance of monitoring the coming communal elections has received renewed public
attention since the slaying of Funcinpec candidates in Kampot province and a spate
of attacks on Sam Rainsy Party candidates in Kampong Cham and Prey Veng.
The CPP-dominated National Election Committee (NEC) will oversee the elections.
Three NGOs which deal with monitoring of elections - the Coalition for Free and Fair
Elections (COFFEL), the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL)
and NICFEC (the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia)
- have been lobbying the Government to reorganize the NEC.
And they are also calling for a system which would allow the participation of individual
candidates and be more encouraging to women candidates, according to NICFEC's president,
She said that during the 1998 national elections protests against the results led
to violence and death; this could have been avoided if the NEC had been independent
so that people had faith in the result.
"Our aim is for the people to have confidence in the NEC," she said. "We
are not trying to interrupt or harm Government plans - we want to have a good society."
Sek Sophal, the Executive Director of COFFEL, said a group of NGOs conducted a survey
of 19,000 people in 15 provinces and found that 80 percent wanted a system that allowed
them to vote for individual candidates.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh told the Post on August 22 that the National Assembly has
yet to receive the commune elections draft law. The National Assembly is in recess
and will convene again on October 16.
According to Article 12 of the draft law, the NEC will appoint commissions at the
provincial and commune level and select local election registrars and polling places.
The draft law prohibits the NEC from appointing people from the armed forces, court
officials, monks or clergy of any religion, local government officials down to the
level of commune council, standing candidates or officials from political parties.
Article 97 of the draft law prohibits the following people from standing as candidates:
members of the National Assembly, the Senate, the Council of Magistracy, the Government,
the judiciary, the NEC, the local electoral commissions, officials of the electoral
registrar, polling station officers, officials of the NEC, civil servants, national
police, monks or clergy, secretaries of communes and city, provincial or district
governors or their deputies.
Civil servants, court officials, armed forces personnel and national police can stand
as candidates in the election but they have to resign at least seven days before
the election campaign. They would be able to return to their former jobs when the
mandate of the communal council is finished.
Funcinpec in particular has been active in educating and encouraging women to join
local political activities.
Prince Ranariddh, Funcinpec's head, said Funcinpec would have candidates in all communes.
Cambodia is divided into 1,606 communes, ranging in population from 1,000 to 50,000
"Our priority, we want to have at least 20 to 30 percent of women as candidates,"
Women's advocates have called on the major political parties for help. The CPP and
SRP did not give a figure, but both say they are trying to add as many women as possible.
Although women comprise 51.78 percent of the total population and 58 percent of the
total voters in Cambodia, the number of women participating in politics and decision-making
According to the draft law the commune election campaign will be for 15 days and
the campaign has to stop 24 hours before the election day. Commune councils are elected
for a five year term.
The draft law calls on all levels of civil servants, branches of the Government and
armed forces to maintain their neutrality during the elections.
The draft law says each polling station will have a maximum 600 voters which can
be increased to 700 voters with the approval of the NEC.