Election Law Debate Begins

The National Assembly on Fri­day began its much-anticipated de­­bate on proposed amendments to the law on national elections that would restructure the Na­tional Election Committee.

The amendments, drafted by the Ministry of Interior, together would alter 72 articles of the 1998 election law. Most hotly discussed has been the proposal that the NEC be reduced to five members—respected “dignitaries” chosen by the Interior Ministry.

On Friday, debate on the law did not yet begin because Monh Saphan and Ek Sam Ol, chair and deputy chair of the legislation committee, spent the whole session reading from the draft law.

Touting the virtues of his ministry’s proposal, co-Minister of In­terior Sar Kheng said, “These amendments deserve credit from po­litical parties, voters, civil society and the international community.”

He said the draft’s provisions would help to ensure free and fair elec­tions in next year’s scheduled July 27 legislative vote. Under the pro­posal, votes would be counted at commune election committee of­fices rather than individual poll­ing places, “to avoid possible threats, retaliation and other abuses.”

The amendments also set pen­alties for vote-buying and guarantee all parties equal access to state media. Previously, vote-buying was not specifically outlawed and equal media access—promised but not delivered by the NEC in the Feb 3 commune elections—was not guaranteed by law.

However, Sar Kheng noted that unlike state media, “private media [would] have the full right to express their opinions” under the proposal—an exception that worried members of the opposition.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Tioulong Saumura said on Sun­day that the proposed amendments were “equal only on paper, but in prac­tice not at all, since the ruling CPP controls all private radio and television stations. “The law sounds good [in that it] pro­mises equal access, but of course it does­n’t really,” because other parties don’t have their own private television and radio stations.

She demanded that the amendments give equal access to all parties in public and private media alike.

 

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