Participants in a two-day conference on commune elections and democracy agreed Cambodia is making progress, but split over whether the National Elections Commission is doing a good job.
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng told the National Conference on Communal Elections and Local Democracy on Friday that the NEC was performing well, and predicted the February 2002 elections would run smoothly.
The NEC is supposed to organize free and fair elections. Critics, however, say it is dominated by the ruling CPP and that its makeup should be changed to reflect current political realities, as required by law.
They say that the NEC includes members of once-active political parties that no longer do much, while active organizations such as the Sam Rainsy Party are not represented. The opposition party has been lobbying unsuccessfuly for representation on the NEC.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of the National Assembly and leader of Funcinpec, told the conference on Thursday that the NEC must correct “loopholes” if it is to be truly independent.
Funcinpec Senator Kem Sokha said he is “concerned” that the NEC has not been reconfigured to reflect current political realities.
Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights organization Licadho, said that the NEC should stay above politics. “If the NEC was truly independent, there would be no protests like there were in 1998,” she said, referring to demonstrations that erupted after the 1998 elections.
Sar Kheng also said the government, despite serious flooding last year, has made progress toward decentralizing control as well as reforming the military, civil service, judiciary and economy.
He said the government has also confiscated weapons and demobilized soldiers, two reforms which should make it easier to hold fair elections.