During the third meeting of the joint-party Electoral Reform Commission on Monday, the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP agreed to 14 points for future discussion, but failed to address the central issue of reforming the National Election Committee.
The CNRP entered the first round of talks with the CPP earlier this month with seven reform proposals, a list that doubled in length following Monday’s meeting between the two parties at the Senate.
Bin Chhin, the CPP deputy prime minister leading the ruling party’s electoral reform delegation, said that the 14 points, which include reform of state electoral institutions, would be put up for discussion in a future public forum to decide which reforms should be prioritized.
“The framework of the election reform is part of the problem that the committee has studied and we have come up with 14 topics, therefore all topics are important,” Mr. Chhin told reporters after Monday’s meeting.
“We need to discuss what degree of reform there will be. We don’t know yet,” Mr. Chhin said, adding that the two parties would meet again next week to organize a national seminar on electoral reform.
The 14 points of reform include the seven initial proposals by the CNRP, which consist of changes to the NEC and local electoral bodies, an overhaul of voter lists and registration, equitable access to the media, the creation of a new mechanism to resolve electoral disputes, the direct election of village chiefs and measures to ensure the neutrality of civil servants and the armed forces.
Reform suggestions that have been added by the CPP include a new law on financing of political parties, measures to ensure the neutrality of civil society organizations, a review of independent election monitoring groups, revision of the electoral calendar, a review of electoral regulations and procedures, including harsher punishments for infractions, and a law restricting the publication of voter opinion surveys.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, who has headed the opposition party in electoral reform talks, said that the CPP, by placing additional reform suggestions on the table, was once again purposefully slowing down the process of implementing actual reforms.
“[The CPP] are pursuing a hidden agenda, they are not sincere about these topics for reform,” Mr. Chhay said, adding that a number of reforms proposed by the CPP had nothing to do with irregularities in July’s national election, which the electoral reform talks were meant to address.
Mr. Chhay said that the CNRP is operating on two fronts in its efforts to push electoral reform.
“One is the public, which doesn’t believe in the CPP,” Mr. Chhay said.
“On the other front is the diplomats, such as the E.U., who seem to believe that these talks will be fruitful,” he said, adding that during next week’s meeting with the CPP, the CNRP will insist on creating a timeframe for specific electoral reforms.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy warned last week that if the CPP refuses the CNRP’s proposal for NEC members to be elected by a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, the CNRP would once again call its supporters together for mass demonstrations.
The CPP has repeatedly refused to agree to reforms of the NEC, which is stacked with officials aligned with the ruling party, and instead has turned its focus to the perceived bias of civil society organizations toward the opposition party.
Talks are set to resume on March 24, according to a joint statement released by the parties after Monday’s meeting.
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)