Election Watchdogs Cite Hun Sun’s Support

Election watchdogs say they have the support of Hun Sen on several key modifications they have proposed to the communal election draft laws, though the prime minister did not promise to help them achieve the changes.

After nearly two hours of discussion Tuesday evening, both members of Cambodia’s main election monitoring organizations and Hun Sen’s cabinet say significant steps have been taken toward a better understanding of how the first local elections should be held.

The optimism after the meeting came despite the fact that the premier offered no assurance to reform the beleaguered National Election Committee in time for planned commune elections.

According to Sum Mean, the prime minister’s adviser on internal affairs, Hun Sen agreed to three recommendations made by the 12-person election delegation.

Most important of those recommendations, according to Center for Social Development President Chea Vannath, is a proposed restructuring of the National Election Committee.

Some election observers claim the NEC is heavily influenced by the government and that the body failed to res­pond to allegations that the CPP’s 1998 victory was aided by irregularities.

NGO officials are calling for a reduced, politically neutral election organization—decreasing the number of members from 11 to five and allowing only one representative from each of Cam­bodia’s three main political parties to participate.

While Hun Sen claimed such  changes would not be possible in time for the communal elections—tentatively planned for next year—Chea Van­nath said the prime minister indicated that a restructuring could be completed in time for the 2003 elections.

Hun Sen also told election monitors he has long agreed that a system of selecting election candidates by political party affiliation rather than individual merit should be abandoned, but cautioned that technological constraints may make this type of balloting nearly impossible.

“[Hun Sen] could not guarantee this result,” Chea Vannath said.

Thun Saray, first representative for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cam­bodia, remains optimistic that the first elections in the country’s more than 1,600 communes will signal the start of a massive overhaul of governance in the pro­vinces.

“Democracy is a process,” he said. “You cannot expect a perfect democracy in one election but I think we’re going in the right direction.”

Yet it remains unclear when the election will now take place. Though the draft law on commune administration is complete and awaiting debate in the National Assembly, a second draft law on the election process still has about 100 of its more than 200 articles under work in the Interior Ministry.

And some government critics remain skeptical that the tone of the meeting indicates a genuine willingness of Hun Sen and the CPP to concede to election changes that may erode their power base.

“Pressure from the international community has forced the government to open itself up to input from civil society,” said Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Cambodian Institute of Dem­o­cracy.

“But I doubt [Hun Sen’s] sincerity. These are tactical measures that take some pressure off of him, especially before [the quarterly donor meeting next week],” Lao Mong Hay said.

One election monitor who did not want to be named pointed out that none of those at the meeting adequately questioned Hun Sen’s reasons for not being able to implement their recommendations immediately. The monitor characterized the prime minister as trying to strike a balance between appeasing donors with reform-minded talk while retaining control over elections .

“Everything he wants, Hun Sen got it,” the monitor said.



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