Tep Nytha Reappointed To NEC Post

After a three-hour closed-door meeting, the National Election Committee on Friday reappointed Tep Nytha as secretary-general of the recently revamped body—though at least one of its nine members personally disagreed with the decision.

That Mr. Nytha’s name had even been listed among candidates in the open call for a replacement secre­tary-general surprised many who assumed a fresh face would take the key post in the wake of a 2014 agreement to reform the NEC.

National Election Committee chairman Sik Bunhok speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh on Friday. (Khem Sovannara)
National Election Committee chairman Sik Bunhok speaks to reporters in Phnom Penh on Friday. (Khem Sovannara)

Speaking to reporters at the NEC’s headquarters inside the Ministry of Interior, chairman Sik Bunhok said the decision had majority support from the committee. Under the NEC’s governing bylaws, the chairman presents his selection to the committee, which must agree through a 50-plus-one majority.

“This morning, the selection was not made by vote, but it was made by holding discussions with the nine members of the NEC,” said Mr. Bunhok, who stepped down as a CPP lawmaker early last year.

“After spending the full morning to conduct thorough discussion on each candidate, the NEC agreed with my request.”

A reformed NEC was the cornerstone of the July 2014 agreement that saw the opposition join the government after a 10-month boycott of parliament in response to the contentious 2013 national election.

While the body’s previous iteration was dominated by those with ties to the CPP, the new version has four members selected by each party and a ninth “neutral,” tie-breaking member.

Members of the committee declined to disclose who among them objected to Mr. Nytha’s appointment, but at least one fought the selection.

Rong Chhun, a former unionist and one of the four CNRP ap­pointees, said he was displeased by the decision.

“Frankly speaking, I am one who opposed the candidate for the position as secretary-general,” he said.

“The reason I opposed his candidacy is because I’ve noticed that the public does not support him.”

Mr. Chhun said he believed Mr. Nytha had a wealth of experience and knowledge, but had worried that his reputation as someone who oversaw the controversial 2003, 2008 and 2013 elections could mar public perception of the new body.

The new NEC has been tasked with supervising the 2017 commune elections and the 2018 national election and has already begun carrying out key work, such as testing a voter registration system that uses biometric identification.

Mr. Chun said he had already come to accept his colleagues’ decision, and hoped that the committee’s proven work and strong rules governing its function would make Mr. Nytha’s appointment unimportant in the grand scheme.

But while the new rules require the NEC to come to an agreement on decisions that are only then administered by the secretary-general, the CNRP said placing Mr. Nytha back in his former role undermined the body’s work.

“The appointment of Tep Nytha, the current NEC secretary-general, to assume the role as secretary-general again…could cause distrust in future elections,” the opposition said in a statement.

“The CNRP is very sorry and disappointed with the decision.”

The NEC’s vice chairman, Kuoy Bunroeun, a CNRP appointee, said he was aware of the criticisms, but stressed that the job came with ample checks and balances.

“I want to clarify to the public so it does not get confused, thinking that the management of the secretariat general is just led by the secretary-general alone. He must discuss with the four deputy secretaries-general,” Mr. Bun­roeun said.

“All decisions are made by the NEC,” echoed Mr. Bunhok. “Not by the secretary-general, deputy secretaries-general, PEC [Pro­vincial Election Committee], CEC [Commune Election Com­mittee] or electoral office officials,” he said.

Apart from Mr. Nytha, who had been running alongside Heng Monychenda and Ya Navuth— both founders of local NGOs—the NEC on Friday selected its four deputy secretaries-general.

Ny Chakrya, head of rights group Adhoc’s human rights and legal aid section, was appointed to take charge of the internal audit department; attorney Mao Sophearith, a former NEC member, will manage the operations department and department of voter registration data and voter lists; Som Sorida, also a former NEC official, will oversee the legal service and dispute department; and Mok Dara, a law professor and head of legal aid at election watchdog Nicfec, is to take over the training, media and public relations department.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea, the ninth “neutral” member, declined to say whether he had supported or opposed Mr. Nytha during the meeting.

“There was discussion and consultation, and it received 50-plus-one, an absolute majority,” he said.

Mr. Bunroeun, the opposition appointee, also declined to reveal his thinking.

Asked by a reporter whether he was “happy” to be working with Mr. Nytha, he said all that “matters is whether he can perform a good job or not.”

“If he does a good job, we congratulate him.”

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