Election Body Weighs Action After Member Attends Rally

The National Election Committee (NEC) will meet Monday to decide whether to reprimand one of its new members, former Cambodian Independent Teachers Association president Rong Chhun, for attending a march marking International Labor Day on Friday.

Mr. Chhun was one of the four members chosen by the opposition CNRP to serve on the new NEC, which took office three weeks ago. The ruling CPP also chose four, and together with the opposition settled on a ninth “consensus” member.

Mr. Chhun, a frequent critic of the government’s labor and education policies, has wasted little time in ruffling some feathers among his new colleagues.

NEC chairman Sik Bunhok, a former CPP lawmaker, said the ex-union leader’s decision to join the Labor Day rallies—organized by a few unions that are often at odds with the government—may have violated the committee’s rules on members’ neutrality.

“The NEC is independent and cannot be involved with NGOs or political parties,” Mr. Bunhok said. “We will ask him in detail about his stance, which side he takes.”

Some 3,000 workers took part in the Labor Day rallies, calling for higher wages, better working conditions and the scrapping of a draft union law. Defying a government ban, some of the unions led marches on the National Assembly and the Labor Ministry to press their demands.

“We have learned that he [Mr. Chhun] was with the workers… when the minority party took their petition,” Mr. Bunhok said. “We want him to clarify this.”

If the NEC decides that a member has broken the rules, the first step is a warning.

“The NEC gives a warning,” the chairman said. “If he gets a warning and he does not listen, then there are other actions, because we cannot allow a person to destroy the NEC’s prestige.”

Since its creation in 1998, the NEC has been stacked with former CPP members and widely seen as little more than a political tool of the ruling party. The CPP agreed to reform the committee last year as part of a deal it struck to get the opposition to end its boycott of parliament in protest over the disputed results of the 2013 national elections. The new NEC, whose members were sworn in last month, is a product of that deal.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea, the consensus member of the committee, said the election body had agreed to discuss Mr. Chhun’s participation in Friday’s rally because of a complaint from the CPP.

“The CPP issued a statement that he was not independent, so we will ask him and check what he has done with the internal rules, whether it was right or wrong,” Mr. Puthea said.

In the statement issued Friday, CPP spokesman Suos Yara complained that Mr. Chhun was not only at the rally, but was seen there in the company of an unnamed CNRP lawmaker.

On Friday, Mr. Chhun said he did nothing wrong and that it was the lawmaker who had approached him.

On Sunday, Mr. Chhun maintained he had acted appropriately.

“In the internal rules there is nothing about this,” he said. “It does not ban [participation in] international anniversaries. And this was an anniversary, not a demonstration, and people took a day off across the world.”

[email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News