CNRP, Comfrel Call for Investigation Into NEC’s Independence

The CNRP and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) on Monday called for a full investigation into the National Election Committee’s (NEC) independence as well as its possible role in the irregularities the opposition says occurred during the national election on July 28.

On Sunday, plans for the establishment of a joint party committee to investigate irregularities at the polls were nixed after the CNRP walked away from the negotiating table because the ruling CPP refused to allow oversight by the U.N. The opposition says that the investigation demands independent oversight as the NEC’s leadership consists of former members of the ruling CPP.

The NEC, however, has said it intends to push on with a probe anyway and will ensure that the new National Assembly meets within 60 days of the election.

Both the CPP and CNRP have claimed victory in the election.

“Any connections with the NEC need to be explained to understand why they are not transparent and ignore problems, instead of improving the system,” Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said Monday.

“[The NEC] can be asked what happened to the voter list and how it affected missing names of the people. This needs to be investigated. They [NEC officials] share responsibility about that,” he said.

“The NEC cannot ignore that accountability [as enshrined under] the election law makes the mandate clear that they must ensure free and fair elections in Cambodia.”

NEC President Im Suosdey on Monday denied favoritism toward the CPP and defended the institution as abiding by the election law.

“We always allow other people to examine our work,” he said. “The NEC has never closed the door on people who want to come and check what we are doing.”

He also reiterated the long-held response that the NEC is duty bound by the law and there was no need to conduct an investigation of his organization’s political independence.

As the NEC abides by the law, said Mr. Suosdey, “There is no other means to measure [the NEC’s impartiality].”

In a report released to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva in August 2012, the U.N. human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, said that the administrative arm of the election process in Cambodia is riddled with flaws and recommended that the NEC undergo a series of reforms—not least the way in which its staff members are appointed by the Interior Ministry—in order to restore some confidence in its work.

“There are major flaws in the administration of elections in Cambodia and urgent and longer-term reforms are needed to give Cambodians confidence in the electoral process and in the workings of the National Election Committee,” Mr. Subedi said at the time.

“If the electoral process is unable to command the trust and confidence of the electorate, the very foundation of the Cambodian political and constitutional architecture embodied in the Paris Peace Agreements will be shaken and the country may run the risk of a return to violence,” he added.

The NEC, however, has so far refused to accept most of the reform recommendations.

Mr. Suosdey is the younger brother of CPP Education Minister Im Sethy. Mr. Suosdey was himself deputy chairman of the central committee of the Youth As­so­ciation of Cambodia—the CPP’s youth wing—from 1980 to 1995. He later joined the Interior Ministry’s election bureau, according to his official resumé on the NEC’s website.

Regardless of calls for an investigation into the NEC, the likelihood of such an inquiry is slim, according to Cambodia expert and scholar David Chandler

“I agree it would be a good idea, but it’s not going to happen,” Mr. Chandler said referring to calls for an investigation into the NEC.

“It’s a utopian idea to say ‘let’s pull this institution apart,’” he said. “But it’s not independent. The judiciary, army and police are not independent. It doesn’t fit the way things are in that country. I think it is unlikely to occur.”

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Monday there was no use in having the NEC investigate election irregularities when it is the very same institution blamed for having caused them in the first place.

“We have wanted to clean the composition of the NEC since the beginning,” Mr. Sovann said. “We want reform. Any investigation from the top to the grassroots level we support. We should have done it since before the election, but now it’s a little bit too late. We support it though, because this is evidence that makes our demands for NEC reform reasonable.”

(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)

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