The National Assembly approved two election-related bills on Thursday, allowing an amendment to the election law on commune councils and controversially approving a reshuffle in the leadership of the National Election Committee.
Defending the amendments on behalf of the government, Interior Minister Sar Kheng told the Assembly that the NEC reshuffle would include the expansion of the body’s leadership from five members to nine members, and would include members of his ruling CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party.
Appointing political party members to the country’s election committee was being done in the “spirit of national reconciliation,” Sar Kheng said.
SRP lawmaker Keo Remy said the neutrality of the NEC was now seriously in question, as the CPP-controlled Interior Ministry has the responsibility of choosing the nine NEC leaders.
Sar Kheng retorted by pointing out that each country has its own way of appointing an election committee.
“Organizing an election committee is not a standard procedure. It is one country’s decision. Japan makes a political decision on this issue while other countries let one ministry, such as the Interior Ministry, make it,” Sar Kheng told the Assembly.
“Being independent means that we implement this according to the law. Whatever the law states, we just follow it. This is independence,” he said.
Sar Kheng added that he would compile the list of NEC appointees, but it would be the National Assembly who approves them.
Keo Remy said that it should then be in the hands of lawmakers to also select the NEC appointees instead of simply rubber-stamping the Interior Ministry’s list.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that due to the Interior Ministry’s influence, the NEC was neither neutral nor independent.
“This way is out of date. Look at Thailand or Indonesia. They no longer use this method, they have resorted to the independent body to do all this work,” he said.