National Election Committee members are largely silent about a recent suggestion from Cambodia’s top three election monitoring agencies to drastically reshape the government’s election commission for next year’s anticipated commune elections.
The recommendation, which calls for the 11-member NEC either to be made smaller or be replaced with a more politically neutral committee, is an attempt to reduce the alleged influence of the CPP-dominated government over the elections, NGO officials have said.
Several NEC members would not comment Monday on the proposed changes, only saying it would be up to the National Assembly to decide if the committee should be restructured.
“We cannot do just anything to please our minds,” said Samraing Kamsan, spokesman for NEC Chairman Chheng Phon.
But NEC Vice President Kassie Neou warned that not complying with the NGOs’ request to change the NEC’s structure may upset the international community, which he said is a crucial financial backer of the elections.
“Without [the international community] we do not have enough budget to run the communal elections,” Kassie Neou said Monday. “I overheard that unless we reform, the international community will not discuss the issue of giving money for the commune elections.”
It is not yet clear how much the elections, which are expected to be held late next year in the country’s more than 1,600 communes, will cost, officials said. Nor is it known how much of the election costs the government expects to be paid by donor countries.
Sak Setha, the deputy director general of the Interior Ministry’s Department General of Administration who heads up a working group that is writing election law drafts, said Monday he has not yet seen the recommendation and could not comment on it.
The NEC was criticized after the 1998 general elections for its seat allocation formula, which opposition parties claimed favored the CPP and inflated that party’s narrow victory.
In a memorandum to government officials involved in writing election law drafts, election monitors have asked that only five non-party-affiliated people be allowed on the committee.
Another alternative, according to election monitoring groups, would be to create a new five-member committee on which only three of the slots would be occupied by a member from each of Cambodia’s three main political parties.
Some NEC members have acknowledged not having enough time or money to adequately prepare for the 1998 elections, but committee member Tip Chanvibol defended the body, saying criticism during such a crucial election was inevitable.
“No matter how well we did something we would always get some criticism and we’ve got to acknowledge that,” he said.
The NGOs’ recommendation on the NEC was one of four forwarded to the government. Though there has been little acknowledgment of NGO concerns by the government, authorities say they plan a meeting with election monitors early next year.