National Election Committee member Tea Chamrath abruptly quit his post Wednesday, saying only that he wanted a different job, according to NEC Chairman Chheng Phon, who said Thursday he is still debating whether to accept the resignation.
“It’s not my job anymore. I’m going to be a gentleman farmer,” Tea Chamrath said Thursday.
The move will allow Funcinpec Party to reclaim a spot on the NEC lost after Tea Chamrath left the party, party Secretary-General Toh Lah said Thursday.
Toh Lah said he is looking at several candidates to replace Tea Chamrath, who he said was never Funcinpec’s choice for an NEC candidate, and is most seriously considering party member Pol Ham.
NEC nominations in 1998 were deadlocked for nearly a month as rival factions of the Funcinpec and BLDP parties submitted different candidates for their alloted slots. The Council of Ministers broke the stalemate and chose Tea Chamrath and several other nominees.
While both Chheng Phon and Tea Chamrath dismissed allegations that his departure was politically motivated, some NEC members see this as the start of a general clearing of the country’s top election body amid growing criticism of its past performance.
With commune elections scheduled to be held late next year, Cambodia’s leading election monitors are encouraging the government to drastically restructure the NEC, which they say is heavily influenced by the CPP-dominated government and greatly exaggerated the CPP’s narrow victory in last year’s general elections.
NGO officials are calling for a reduced, politically-neutral election organization—decreasing the number of members from 11 to five and allowing one representative from each of Cambodia’s three main political parties.
Opposition party members have also claimed support for NEC reforms, saying they will boycott any commune elections unless the NEC is restructured in accordance with the NGOs’ recommendations.
NEC members have generally refused to comment on these proposed changes, saying that it is up to the National Assembly to change the committee’s makeup.
But some NEC members have begun to look critically at the organization of the committee. One NEC officer pointed out that there were committee members who were representatives of parties that either no longer existed or do not have seats in the National Assembly.
It was also noted that the Sam Rainsy Party has yet to gain a seat on the NEC, despite holding 15 seats on the National Assembly.
Sam Rainsy cabinet chief Phi Thach said Thursday he was aware of this lack of representation but stressed the need to reform the NEC rather than fight for a position on the current committee.