Three National Election Committee (NEC) members, all Cambodia National Rescue Party nominees, have quit the electoral body, intensifying the fallout from the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the opposition party on Thursday.
The CNRP was dissolved by the high court for allegedly plotting an overthrow of the government in a decision that has drawn international condemnation and raised concerns that next year’s elections will be illegitimate in the absence of the country’s largest opposition party.
Since the decision, the party’s elected members at all levels have been stopped from continuing their work and authorities have worked to wipe away any visible reminders of the party, such as flags and signboards.
The three NEC members – Kuoy Bunroeun, Te Manyrong and Rong Chhun – announced their resignation yesterday in a statement taking umbrage with the reallocation of the CNRP’s 55 National Assembly seats to other minor political parties.
The three had been nominated to the body by the CNRP as part of a postelection deal with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party that ended the opposition’s boycott of parliament following the disputed 2013 elections.
“It is a violation of the will of the people, who voted for their favoured party,” the statement reads. “This action directly impacts the process of the upcoming 2018 election, which is not guaranteed to be a free, fair and just election.”
The electoral body is now left with six members: four CPP nominees, so-called neutral member Hang Puthea and former Supreme Court Prosecutor Hing Thirith, the only remaining CNRP pick.
Thirith yesterday said he would continue working for the NEC for now, as people had voted for him.
The resigning members could not be reached yesterday.
Leng Peng Long, National Assembly spokesman, said yesterday that they would convene a meeting about the NEC once the new Assembly members were chosen.
“We will follow the law with four people from the ruling party . . . and one from a civil society organisation,” he said.
Mao Sophearith, deputy director of the NEC and a CPP appointee, said that the positions at the NEC would remain vacant for now.
“We will select the suitable people to replace or fill in the positions,” he said.
However, Yoeurng Sotheara, legal officer for the elections watchdog Comfrel, said the departures left the NEC without legitimacy. And now, he argued, its ability to approve the appointment of new National Assembly members was also called into question.
The NEC validates new members of the National Assembly, who in turn are responsible for approving NEC members, but both bodies are now almost half-vacant.
Under controversial new amendments to the country’s election laws, the royalist Funcinpec party will now be eligible to take the lion’s share of the CNRP’s 55 seats, despite its failure to win even a single one itself during the 2013 election.
While Funcinpec has declared they will accept the seats – the party actually filed a complaint to the Ministry of Interior seeking the CNRP’s dissolution – the president of the League for Democracy party, Y Saing Leng, said in a statement yesterday that his party would not accept seats it is entitled to.
Though the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party initially had said members wouldn’t accept seats, its secretary-general, Sin Sovannarith, yesterday said they had not decided yet. “We are having a meeting among the permanent committee members,” he said.
Human rights expert Billy Tai said in a message that though the NEC was trying to “do the right thing” initially, there was now “no credibility left”.
“[It] is clear that the NEC is now merely another government or CPP agency that has no independent authority and [is] required to follow the orders and wishes of the CPP government,” he said.
“Given the present state, I cannot possibly see how any foreign government (except China maybe) can possibly justify the provision of any funding . . . and potentially lend legitimacy to that election.”
Additional reporting by Niem Chheng