Despite promises made to foreign governments and donors for speedy local elections, government officials say the commune elections will be delayed again until early in 2002, just one year before the next scheduled national elections.
Ministry of Interior and National Assembly officials said the balloting will likely be moved back a couple of months from November 2001 to early 2002 because the National Election Commission is asking for more time to organize the election.
Under a bill awaiting consideration by the National Assembly, the National Election Committee is to be given at least nine and no more than 10 months to prepare for the election.
But NEC chairman Chhay Kim said his group wants to amend that bill to give the NEC at least 11 and no more than 12 months. Chhay Kim said he told Ministry of Interior officials that NEC needed more time to set up registration committees and to register new voters.
Both Chhay Kim and ministry officials acknowledge that the longer NEC takes, the more money it will spend. Prach Chan, general director of the ministry’s administration department, said the ministry is considering giving NEC a period of at least 10 and no more than 11 months.
National Assembly Interior Commission Chairman Dean Del and the co-Ministers of Interior are scheduled to meet Wednesday to review the draft law on Communal Administration. A second election bill, The Law on the Organization of Communal Election, had already been placed on the National Assembly agenda, but was withdrawn when the government asked to have the two election bills examined together.
Debate on the 2001 budget is underway in the assembly and will be followed by discussion on a draft law for Khmer Rouge trials. Commune election debate would come later.
The prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders and a clean election to pick leaders for Cambodia’s more than 1,600 communes are the two biggest promises the government has made to the international donor community. Commune elections, originally scheduled for 1997, have been postponed several times.
Because the assembly goes into recess on Jan 16, it is possible the election laws will not be debated until the assembly returns to work in April. Dean Del said he will be trying hard to get the law put on the agenda and debated during the recess.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay called the NEC request for more time “a political trick of the ruling CPP party that doesn’t want to see [the election] done soon.”
Om Yentieng, senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said the government is committed to holding commune elections in 2001 as planned.
“That’s why we allocated money in the 2001 budget for the election to be held,” Om Yentieng said. “But the government cannot do it alone. We want the parliament to push it ahead faster.”
Asked if he thinks the international community will blame the government for delaying the election to 2002, Om Yentieng said: “The international community is not blind to what is going on. They will see the reason why there is such delay.”