Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Two-party hijack of commune elections feared

Two-party hijack of commune elections feared

Two-party hijack of commune elections feared

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,

Kek Galabru.

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

residents.

"Our priority, we want to have at least 20 to 30 percent of women as candidates,"

Ranariddh said.

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

is low.

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.

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