The vice chairman of the National Election Committee delivered a blistering attack on his own organization Wednesday during a forum on election law.
The remarks by Kassie Neou came during a very long “question” to NEC Deputy Secretary-General Houy Sophorn at a forum co-sponsored by the Cambodia Institute of Human Rights.
“I don’t worry about things related to the election [process], because my turn [at the NEC] will be up soon,” he said angrily as he walked out of the forum after making his statement. “But I do this for the sake of the people.”
The vice chairman, who has said in the past the NEC is biased in favor of the CPP, said Wednesday the committee should be appointed by lawmakers instead of by the central government.
He also blasted the NEC for insufficiently training polling officials for Sunday’s commune council election. “Thousands of polling station officials were selected late and were trained in a short period of time,” he charged. “The NEC is allowing them to control the nation’s fate.”
The forum’s topic was designing laws and procedures to avoid the violent controversies over voting results that plagued the 1998 national campaign. But Kassie Neou said there were still many problems.
He said the complaint review process, which requires candidates to file complaints with commune election officials and then appeal at the provincial and national level, was biased because election officials at all levels of the process were appointed by the NEC.
“It’s like the CEC [Commune Election Committee], the PEC [Provincial Election Committee] and the NEC are all relatives,” he said.
He also criticized the short deadline party representatives face to file complaints about vote counting. The law states that complaints must be filed with commune election officials by noon the day after the election. Kassie Neou said local election officials sometimes blocked party agents from filing complaints on time in 1998.
He said the four days the law gives the NEC to resolve complaints is insufficient. In 1998 the NEC was given three days, and it resolved only a few of the 802 complaints it received, he said.
The vice-chairman, who is also CIHR’s director, has become increasingly vocal as the elections approach. In a letter to the Cambodia Daily published Tuesday, he said the NEC was failing in its mandate to promote public understanding. “Voters have been and are being denied essential information that would enable them to best exercise their vote on Sunday,” he wrote.
That letter was published one day after the NEC voted to ban the airing of a series of roundtable discussions on election issues, some of which the committee itself produced.
On December 27, Kassie Neou told a journalism class that he was part of a minority in the NEC that rarely got its way. “The majority is CPP,” he said. “That’s why they vote to reject [my ideas] all the time.”
He told that class that he resigned a post with the NEC before the 1998 elections because he was being ignored. He said he felt guilty about the bloodshed that resulted from the storm of controversy over the 1998 vote count.
“Even if I die three or four more times, I will never forget what I did in the 1998 election,” he did
Kassie Neou told the students there should be a parallel vote count alongside the official vote count to ensure fairness. He also suggested the election had been compromised because voters were not being sufficiently educated.
“They’re not informed, and then it’s not fair,” he said.
During Wednesday’s forum, Houy Sophorn said new procedures have been put in place to avoid irregularities, including stamping each ballot to prevent fraud. He urged candidates and the public to file prompt formal complaints with commune election officials to ensure that they would be heard within the review period.
He said the short deadline for filing complaints was set by law and was beyond the control of the NEC.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean and Suy Se)