Civil society leaders and representatives of political parties that hold no seats in parliament raised concerns Thursday about the electoral reforms agreed upon by the two major parties in their political deal late last month.
At a discussion organized by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), leaders of Funcinpec and other minor parties questioned whether the reforms introduce too much party participation in election running. Election reform experts raised similar concerns.
The ruling CPP and opposition CNRP on July 22 cut a deal to replace the National Election Committee (NEC), which is ostensibly apolitical but in practice dominated by the CPP, with a new body composed of four members from either party and a final member satisfactory to both.
Lao Mong Hay, a prominent political analyst, questioned whether such an arrangement, which puts two parties in control of running elections, could lead to free elections.
“The new NEC that has power sharing will have no effectiveness, no independence and rights violations,” he told the table at the Imperial Hotel. “How can there be independence if the people are appointed by the political parties?”
Mr. Mong Hay also suggested that alternative members of the new NEC be arranged so that the body could continue to operate if the original nine are incapacitated.
“We must not stick to 4-4-1 because people are not immortal and can die or fall sick, or not be able to work, so what happens then?” Mr. Mong Hay asked. “We must have reserve people. The number could be double of the nine.”
Kuoy Bunroeun, a CNRP official who is so far the only confirmed member of the new NEC, said that he was skeptical of Mr. Mong Hay’s suggestions for the body.
“On the reserve point, we will take it into consideration too. But we face difficulties with this because individual ethics has declined in our culture,” Mr. Bunreoun said.
“If a person is known to be a reserve, the person in the position can be put in trouble. Then when that reserve comes into the position, that person will be working for someone.”
No officials from the CPP attended the discussion.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said it was important that the selection criteria for the new NEC members was transparent.
“We would like to suggest that the two political parties thoroughly check the selections of the NEC members with the general public,” he said. “In a democratic process, there is no need to be secret, except for the secret vote.”
Nhiek Bun Chhay, secretary-general of the Funcinpec party, which lost its last two parliamentary seats at last year’s national election, said his party was concerned that elections would not be fair with a new NEC composed of political appointees.
“We want the NEC staff to implement their job independently and not following instructions from any party,” Mr. Bun Chhay said. “It’s like… If I want to win, I will not respect the law but I will try to buy their hearts.”
Mr. Bun Chhay added that it was important that specific punishments for election law violations be spelled out to ensure that violations by the parties are not overlooked.
Mr. Bunroeun of the CNRP said that he supported the suggestion, and added that punishments for all possible electoral infringements should be set out in the law.
“For instance, if the local authorities prevent access to parties to go campaigning, they will be punished,” he said.