Assembly Approves Commune Poll Law

Sam Rainsy Party Would Get Seat on Election Committee

The second of two commune election laws was passed Thurs­day by the Na­tion­al Assem­bly, including a last-minute amendment allowing the Sam Rainsy Party a seat on the Nation­al Election Com­mittee.

Opposition party lawmakers have long pushed for a position on the NEC, the government body tasked with overseeing Cambodia’s elections.

The NEC has come under fire for not fairly representing the country’s political spectrum, and despite their apparent minor victory, Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers said the amendment was made to merely placate them.

“This could be one step…to build up national and international confidence. But in fact, this NEC still reflects no independence and neutrality. It is just a political game the government plays,” opposition parliamentarian Kim Suor Phirith said.

Last year Funcinpec was given an NEC seat that at the time was occupied by someone who had previously quit the party.

Sam Rainsy Party members complained then about their lack of seat, especially when political parties no longer in existence still had NEC representation.

Election monitors have called for a drastic overhaul of the NEC, and while Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng acknowledged earlier this week that may be possible, he said it will not occur until the 2003 national elections.

With the Assembly’s approval of two commune election laws

—one passed last week covering commune administration and the measure passed Thursday dealing with the election of those administrations—Sar Kheng said the elections could be held as early as January 2002.

“Picking January 2002 is appropriate because people will be free from the busy rice harvest and floods,” Sar Kheng said.

The elections of new leadership in Cambodia’s more than 1,600 communes marks a serious attempt to decentralize the country’s central government.

Lawmakers generally have been praised for passing the laws before their recess this month, but election monitors remained critical of several provisions in the legislation, which they say give the central government too much control over local decisions.

Monitors said the Assembly de­bate during the past two weeks has made them increasingly pessimistic that fair elections could be held, and at a meeting earlier this week said they would instead focus more energies on the national elections.

Cambodia’s three main political parties have shown some initial enthusiasm for the commune ballot, holding seminars and choosing candidates for commune leadership.


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