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Watchdogs bite back

Kouy Bunroeun talks to the media at the National Assembly
Kouy Bunroeun talks to the media at the National Assembly yesterday. Vireak Mai

Watchdogs bite back

A coalition of monitors, whose findings bolstered the opposition’s claims of election fraud following the 2013 poll, have accused the CNRP of acquiescing to the ruling party at reform talks and crafting an election law arguably worse than the one it is intended to replace.

The Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA), which the government once accused of conspiring with the opposition to mislead the public about election irregularities, yesterday said the CNRP had folded on certain key principles of free and fair elections.

Their chief complaints include a vague provision that would fine NGOs thousands of dollars if they are deemed to have “insulted” the parties during the election campaign, and a failure to prevent soldiers and court officials from campaigning while outside working hours and out of uniform.

The final wording on both issues was agreed to by CNRP leader Sam Rainsy during a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng on Saturday that focused on points that the parties’ lower-level working groups could not agree on.

“With the current election law agreement, there are some setbacks. [Things will] not really get better in the future election administration,” Koul Panha, executive director of Comfrel, said following a discussion organised by the ERA yesterday.

He added that the environment for election campaigns would actually “get worse” with the restriction placed on NGO voices, the continued campaigning of soldiers and the fact that a shortened 21-day campaign period will allow for only four days of street rallies.

Kem Ley, who leads the Khmer for Khmer political network, called on political leaders who were “afraid” of being insulted by civil society groups to resign from their positions.

“Presidents of the parties have also insulted each other and insulted development partners and civil society, so why don’t we use this law to put pressure on them also?” he said.

“This new law is worse than the previous law. It restricts NGOs more than before. The [Cambodian People’s Party] knows that no matter how bad it acts [with election reform], it sees that the [CNRP] does not dare to say it is bad, because they want to hide the reality of the reforms after joining parliament.”

The CNRP ended its 10-month boycott of the National Assembly in August last year after the CPP agreed to an overhaul of the electoral system.

In November, opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed that the internal rules of parliament would be amended to recognise Rainsy as a US-style minority leader under a new “culture of dialogue”.

Since then, the CNRP has been accused of being too soft on the government. Both parties have also been criticised for failing to consult with civil society during the now-completed drafting of a new National Election Committee law or during negotiations on changes to the election law.

Yang Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, said at yesterday’s event that despite the promises of significant reforms last year, “these reforms are increasingly making us more worried than before”.

But Rainsy yesterday defended the agreements, saying they would undoubtedly improve future elections to the point that his party would win.

“I would like to tell all of you the good news, that the next elections will be so much better than before,” he told supporters outside his party’s headquarters. “I have been busy with Mr Kem Sokha preparing to have an election law to be better … and not to have ballot fraud like before to ensure that we will respect [the result].”

Kuoy Bunroeun, head of the CNRP’s reform working group, said yesterday after a meeting of the two parties at the National Assembly to finalise the wording of the law that the parties “respect the freedom of expression of individuals”.

He added that a public seminar would be held next week to consult with civil society.

His CPP counterpart, Bin Chhin, said that the concerns of NGOs could be raised at the event and that the parties would “consider” them.

The representatives also confirmed that a provision to prevent post-election deadlock by forcing all parties that win seats to attend parliament – as Prime Minister Hun Sen recently called for – would be discussed in the future and added to a relevant law.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH

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