More than five months after the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party first announced a joint commitment to electoral reform following a September 16 meeting, specific measures have finally been agreed upon.
The first official meeting yesterday of a bipartisan committee tasked with discussing election reforms agreed on “the organisation of voter registration and a voter list to guarantee and defend the voting rights of all people”, and that a law on political party finance be created, a joint statement says.
While the two sides have agreed in principle on the need for a revamped voter list, details of how that could be practically implemented will only be decided after a yet-to-be-scheduled national workshop with relevant stakeholders, opposition spokesman and committee member Yim Sovann said last night.
The reform of electoral institutions, a mechanism to resolve election disputes, and equal access to media for all political parties was also discussed, party representatives said after the meeting, though no agreement has been reached on those issues.
They will be on the discussion table at a sit-down set for next Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, the head of the CPP’s delegation, and Son Chhay, a senior opposition figure and head of the CNRP’s delegation, said at a press conference following the more than four-hour-long meet between the six members of each party that make up the committee.
Missing voter names, partisan electoral institutions, unfair media access and use of state resources in campaigning have all been cited by watchdogs as key issues that undermined last July’s poll.
But despite the parties’ newfound unity on paper, their comments to the press after the meeting revealed that serious discord remains.
The CPP’s Chhin hinted to reporters the CNRP’s boycott of parliament would have to end for the agreed-upon reforms to be implemented.
“The ball is in [the court] of [his Excellency] Son Chhay, because the Cambodian People’s Party side has gone to work [in parliament], and if the [CNRP side] will join someday, you have to ask him,” he said.
“The reforms, in the end, they must [occur] in the parliament. If there is no parliament, there cannot be any reforms.”
The CNRP has long made it clear that the key “stumbling block” to a political solution that would see them finally take their seats in the National Assembly is their demand that an early election be held before the current five-year mandate ends.
Though Chhay said he raised that issue in yesterday’s meeting, only to be told by the ruling party that it was an issue better left to discussions between party leaders, he insisted yesterday that reforms would have to occur regardless of progress on that key demand.
“It’s two different things: reform and an early election.… One is a technical thing, the other is a political thing,” Chhay told the Post.
“If we can’t have any political solution, especially agreeing to have a re-election … then I don’t think we can stop the process of reform. The CPP is committing themselves to this reform.”
While progress is being made between the two parties, “no one can drag [the CNRP] into parliament”, he added.
Chhin yesterday repeated the ruling party’s argument that the Cambodian constitution states that the parliament cannot be dissolved before the five-year mandate ends, but hinted that a political agreement could “quickly” change things.
Monitors from umbrella group the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA), which produced a highly critical post-election report that has been denounced by the government as an attempt to mislead the public, yesterday welcomed the progress on reforms.
“I think the agreement between the two parties are in line with the recommendations put forward by civil society organisations … and we congratulate the two parties for reaching this agreement,” said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia. “There are key and fundamental areas of reform but we would still need to see a concrete and detailed action plan for technical [procedures].”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said that a law on political party finance would “hopefully [lead] to less money [being] involved in politics”.
He cautioned, however, that “the devil will be in the details” for all agreed upon reforms.
Meanwhile Hang Puthea, executive director of election watchdog NICFEC, said yesterday’s agreement amounted to a tacit admission by the CPP that the voter list for the election had serious problems.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH