Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha said on Thursday that the National Assembly will meet next week to debate and pass the country’s two new election laws in order for the new National Election Committee (NEC) to be established before the Khmer New Year.
Mr. Sokha, who is also National Assembly vice president, told reporters outside Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison that he hoped the expedited process would allow the new laws to come into force by April 13.
“Both parties have agreed to complete both laws at a session on [March] 19th and 20th to approve both of the laws at the National Assembly, [and then] send it to the Senate and the Constitutional Council and to send it to the King to sign before the 30th of this month,” he said.
On March 30, a call will be made for candidates for the new NEC to come forward within 10 days, Mr. Sokha said. After that, the National Assembly’s permanent committee will meet to choose the body’s nine commissioners.
“By Khmer New Year, I hope [there will be] the new NEC…and those who have received political penalties will be released and let free,” Mr. Sokha said.
The CNRP deputy leader visited the prison on Thursday to meet with jailed opposition official Meach Sovannara, who was arrested late last year, a day after talks over the new election laws were once again deadlocked.
The opposition party has claimed that Mr. Sovannara’s arrest was a political ploy to encourage it to back down in the talks, and Mr. Sokha said Thursday that he hoped once the two new laws are legislated the official will be released.
“I met Meach Sovannara and his health is well,” Mr. Sokha said. “He has just said that he still hopes there will be a political solution as soon as possible.
“We have been paying attention and we will raise the issue [of his imprisonment] after the approval of the election law and the NEC law,” he added. “The time will come at the minute when we have finished the election law.”
The new election laws have come under fire from some NGOs due to a number of provisions they say will silence civil society during elections, but both the CPP and CNRP have disregarded the criticism and said the new laws will only prevent NGO workers from being biased or insulting.
The establishment of a new bipartisan NEC, which will have four members selected by each party, will also require a ninth “neutral” member to be found. Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek—the presumptive nominee —said on Tuesday that she would not decide whether to accept the position until the new laws are made official.