Voting watchdogs dismayed at PM's demand

Election officials count votes in Prey Veng province in 2013
Election officials count votes in Prey Veng province in 2013 during the national election. Today will mark the first day of a two-day deadline to finalise a new electoral reform law. Heng Chivoan

Voting watchdogs dismayed at PM's demand

Election monitors yesterday accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of using strong-arm tactics after he threatened to scrap an electoral reform law if it wasn’t finalised – complete with a divisive new provision of his own suggestion – by the end of the month.

In a speech concluding an annual conference at the Ministry of Interior on Wednesday, Hun Sen called on the electoral reform working group to include a provision that would force parties to forfeit their seats if they refused to enter parliament due to a dispute over election results, as the opposition did after the 2013 elections.

If the new draft law didn’t include such a clause, and if it wasn’t completed by Saturday, Hun Sen continued, then the disputed provisions would go to a general session of parliament for a straight up or down vote, which his party would win handily.

Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel, said yesterday that the premier’s stance was antithetical to the entire point of electoral reform.

“The ruling party cannot take electoral reform as its personal interest. If he keeps doing more like this, there will be no full legality [to elections] and elections will still have problems,” Panha said. “If [the Cambodian People’s Party] wants to take a win by itself, go ahead, but then the elections will be meaningless.”

Panha urged both parties to remain calm and to take still-disputed clauses in the law – including the addition and reapportionment of seats in parliament, and restrictions on NGOs commenting during the election period – to electoral experts for advice before the draft is submitted to top-level leaders.

Fellow election monitor Hang Puthea, of the group NICFEC, accused Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party of subverting democratic principles.

“The disagreed-upon points are the responsibility of both parties, because the election belongs to all the people; it does not belong to [the CPP],” he said, adding that sending the disputed points to the National Assembly for a vote amounted to “domination” by the CPP.

Hun Sen’s pledge to revert to the old National Election Committee if the working group failed to agree on the body’s new composition, he added, effectively forced the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s hand.

“I believe that the Cambodia National Rescue Party does not have any choice other than following the Cambodian People’s Party,” he said.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, however, refused yesterday to acknowledge that the premier’s hard-line stance would present an obstacle to negotiations.

“I have received information that [the problems] can be resolved. As long as there are talks, I believe that all the problems can be resolved,” he said, while declining to elaborate on how his party planned to achieve this.

However, independent analyst Ou Virak was not so optimistic. “I think the opposition is in trouble,” he said. “They have absolutely no idea what to do with this now.”

The opposition should have demanded concrete concessions on electoral reform before ending its boycott of parliament last year, when they had the upper hand, but now that they’ve entered parliament, Virak continued, “they have very little leverage”.

But the premier’s demands could have a silver lining.

His calls for a provision preventing future boycotts could end up working against him, Virak said.

“The thing with the boycotting, that assumes that the CPP is winning. What if the CPP loses?”

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