NEC Rejects Criticism of Election Reform

The National Election Committee (NEC) on Tuesday dismissed recent resolutions passed by the European Parliament and the Australian Senate calling for free and fair elections in Cambodia with an unhindered role for convicted opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Both the European and Australian resolutions, passed Friday and Monday respectively, cite recent recommendations from the U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, which included a political solution that would allow Mr. Rainsy to “play a full role in Cambodian politics.”

Mr. Rainsy has been in self-imposed exile since 2009 to avoid an 11-year jail sentence on convictions he and his supporters consider politically motivated.

The European Parliament also noted as part of its resolution that observers found Cambodia’s 2008 national elections to have fallen short of international standards and said the electoral process still had “major flaws.”

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Europe and Australia had the right to criticize but rejected claims of flaws in the electoral process.

“It’s not true,” Mr. Nytha said. “The NEC follows the law.”

“There are many local and international communities that support our administration of elections in Cambodia,” he added, though he declined to name those supporters.

Mr. Nytha also criticized both resolutions for leaning too heavily on Mr. Subedi’s reports as a way of outlining their critique of the human rights situation in Cambodia.

“I know that Mr. Subedi interviewed one person who criticized the NEC process and put it in his report and recommendations; it is not fair,” he said.

Mr. Nytha said Mr. Subedi and his supporters ought to be happy about the National Assembly’s recent decision to appoint two former judges as members of the NEC, one of Mr. Subedi’s own recommendations.

“We have two retired judges just like the United Nations special rapporteur had demanded,” he said.

In his latest report, Mr. Subedi recommended that the NEC draw some of its members from among retired former judges. He also recommended that all parties with seats in the National Assembly agree on who gets nominated.

But when the National Assembly approved the two former judges on October 11, the SRP and Human Rights Party boycotted the vote because they had both been left out of the selection process.

The Interior Ministry nominated the judges on its own and has ignored all requests to explain how it selected them.

In addition to condemning Mr. Rainsy’s conviction and pushing for his safe return to Cambodia, the European Parliament in its resolution urged the government “to implement the recent U.N. recommendations on reforming the electoral system to ensure it conforms with international standards before, during and after the casting of votes.”

Speaking with reporters on Monday, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith sought to downplay the resolution.

“I know the European Union did not decide like this,” he said. “Only some European Parliament members adopted it.”

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