The National Election Committee (NEC) yesterday told United Nations Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith that election monitoring coalition the “Situation Room” will have to register with the Interior Ministry if it wants to deploy observers for next year’s elections – despite there being no such requirement in the NGO Law.
The special rapporteur met with NEC Chairman Sik Bun Hok yesterday as part of her 10-day visit to the Kingdom, raising the issue of the targeting of the election monitoring group following the commune elections, as well as the registration of migrant workers.
Following the meeting, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the electoral body’s head informed Smith that the Situation Room could continue with its monitoring of the elections as long as it followed the law.
“If they adhere to the law, the law will protect them. In short, it is good if they just follow the law,” he said.
The Situation Room’s legitimacy came into question after it assessed that the recently concluded commune elections were “not fully free and fair”, prompting Prime Minister Hun Sen to order an investigation into whether the loose collective of NGOs needed to be registered to operate.
An Interior Ministry investigation, however, only alleged that the NGO coalition had acted with a political bias, and did not go after it for not registering. The Law on Associations and NGOs allows civil society groups to pool together resources for projects, without having to register a new organisation.
Smith also said she raised concerns to the election body about migrant workers’ inability to register and vote – an issue brought up repeatedly by the opposition and civil society.
“I also asked about the Cambodian migrants and the opportunity for them to vote, but the director of NEC told that they have not lost their rights to vote,” she said.
Recently, the NEC’s Bun Hok diverted blame for not registering Cambodian migrant workers to political parties, claiming the electoral body could not act outside the limits of the law.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party has since submitted legislation to the National Assembly enabling registration and voting along the Thai border and at embassies. The draft is at the Permanent Committee awaiting a decision on whether it will be forwarded to the floor.
“They can register in the country since our law does not allow NEC to create offices at the border or at an embassy,” Bun Hok said.
Yoeung Sotheara, a legal officer with election monitor Comfrel, questioned why the NEC was continuing to ask the Situation Room to register when there were no such legal requirements. Additionally, he said there was no organisational structure to the coalition, and thus requiring it to register would cause complications.
“Then will the leaders of the NGOs have to resign to join this new organisation?” he asked.
Smith said after the meeting that she also voiced concerns about the ruling party’s repeated “use of violent rhetoric” in the political sphere and “emphasised the need to avoid all forms of threatening and intimidating rhetoric in the months ahead”.