Controversial Election Laws to Be Passed Without Amendments

National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun said Wednesday that bipartisan support for the country’s two new election laws would ensure they are passed with little debate by the parliament today, despite substantial public concern about their content.

Civil society groups have slammed provisions in the new laws, including hefty fines for NGOs that do not maintain political “neutrality” and for election booth observers who “disturb” election officials.

Other provisions create the potential for parties to be disqualified from elections should a senior member break election rules, which observers have said could be abused to steal seats from victorious parties.

Mr. Vun said Wednesday that despite the quantity of complaints from civil society groups since the laws were made public a week ago, the CPP and CNRP would almost certainly pass the laws in their current state.

“There are some corrections for spelling but not for the meaning, as the two laws were drafted by lawmakers who have experience working in the National Assembly for two or three electoral terms,” he said.

“In particular, the two leaders from the two big parties have agreed to the meaning of the two laws so I do not think there will be lengthy debate tomorrow.”

Mr. Vun’s comments Wednesday followed a meeting of the coalition of NGOs calling itself the Electoral Reform Alliance, which used their last chance before the passage of the laws to call for controversial sections to be deleted.

The coalition appealed to the National Assembly’s 123 lawmakers to remove articles 84, 137, 148, 159 and 160 from the new national election law and replace them with the equivalent articles from the old legislation before voting.

Among the provisions the NGOs oppose, Article 160 allows the new National Election Committee to punish “party agents or observers who give advice or place blame on election officers and officers who are counting ballots.”

Sin Titseiha, advocacy officer for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that this would prevent observers from doing their job.

“Most observers we recruit from the general population, the schools and universities to train them in election observation work,” Mr. Titseiha said.

“Now this kind of work faces penalties of between 1 and 10 million riel [about $250 to $2,500],” he said. “So we think this point is very bad, and that the idea of the two political parties is that they do not want the participation of election observers.”

Article 84 separately bans NGOs from “direct or indirect speech or texts that insult any party or any candidate,” or the “release of any statement…supporting or showing bias to or against any activity or any candidate” and allows the levying of similar fines.

The inclusion of such provisions in the law means the flow of information during campaigns could be stifled, said Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

“As these articles can be used to place penalties on civil society groups for exercising their freedom of expression, it also impacts on the freedom of expression of the general public,” he said.

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