The government’s high-profile election commission should be overhauled before commune elections are held, monitoring groups said.
Three organizations have taken aim at the National Election Committee, which they claim was too heavily influenced by the CPP-driven government during the 1998 national elections.
Neutral and Independent Committee for Free, Fair Elections in Cambodia, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia and the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections—Nicfec, Comfrel and Coffel, respectively—recently sent the government plans to reduce the size of the NEC from 11 to five members, Coffel Executive Director Sek Sophal said, retaining those committee members who are allegedly not aligned with any of Cambodia’s political parties.
Another option, according to a draft of recommendations, would be to create an entirely separate Commune Election Committee of five members, each selected by National Assembly members.
According to Nicfec head Kek Galabru, the Commune Election Committee’s chair could be chosen by King Norodom Sihanouk. Its vice chair would be appointed from the social sector and the remaining three slots would go to each of Cambodia’s three main political parties.
“We would like more balance but it will be difficult, I don’t think the government would like that,” Kek Galabru said.
All committee candidates would have to be interviewed publicly on Cambodian radio and television stations, Sek Sophal said Thursday.
NEC members could not be reached Thursday for comment but have acknowledged in the past they did not have enough time or money to adequately conduct the 1998 elections, during which they were criticized for confusion over the allocation formula for National Assembly seats and the handling of post-election complaints.
The election monitoring groups also repeated their wish for independent election candidates rather than party-affiliated candidates, but have expressed increasing pessimism over this possibility.
“We can ask but I really have no hope,” Kek Galabru said.
This absence of political parties in the election process has been pushed heavily by both NGOs and government officials involved in drafting the election law as a way to reduce party-oriented intimidation.
But election monitors and even some who have consulted the government on the draft laws acknowledge it is an increasingly unrealistic goal. They note that the commune election law will have to be adopted by the Council of Ministers, the National Assembly and the Senate, all bodies dominated by members of political parties.
Kek Galabru also said she would like to see Nicfec, Coffel and Comfrel act as election monitors—able to file formal complaints about anticipated election day flaws—rather than merely act as observers.
Sak Setha, the deputy director general for the Interior Ministry’s Department General of Administration who is heading up a working group on draft laws for commune administration and commune elections, said Thursday that NGOs will be invited to participate in the process.
“There’s no point claiming the government does not work closely with the NGOs, as the drafts have not all been edited yet,” Sak Setha said, adding he has not seen any of the monitoring organizations’ recommendations yet. (Additional reporting by Chea Sovirak)