National Election Committee (NEC) Secretary-General Tep Nytha reiterated Thursday that the NEC had no authority to establish a joint-party investigation into alleged irregularities during Sunday’s national election, while opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would now seek an investigation outside the NEC.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that the ruling CPP would be open to participating in a joint investigation into irregularities with the opposition CNRP if the NEC responded to calls to establish one.
Mr. Nytha said that the NEC’s authority to examine complaints regarding election irregularities only allowed it to do so alone, and that it had no power to host any other investigation.
“As we responded to His Excellency Sam Rainsy, this request [for a joint investigative committee] is beyond the NEC’s rights,” he said.
“It is not under our jurisdiction, but we will create a process for everybody to submit complaints about irregularities to the NEC and the provincial electoral bodies.”
Mr. Nytha said that complaints received by the NEC and its provincial committees during working hours between today and Tuesday would be investigated case by case, and only those complaints submitted inside that three-day timeframe would taken into consideration ahead of the NEC’s release of preliminary results on August 10.
“After reviewing each case, we will invite all parties involved to attend a meeting,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy and CNRP vice president Kem Sokha on Monday called for an independent investigation into electoral irregularities, which independent vote monitors said were widespread during Sunday’s national election. According to the opposition leaders, the proposed committee should be comprised of the NEC, both major political parties, international observers such as the U.N., as well as local civil society groups.
Commenting Thursday on the NEC’s inability to host the independent investigation, Mr. Rainsy said that the opposition did not have to rely on the NEC to facilitate the investigation if the CPP was open to the proposal.
“The NEC says they have no power to do anything, so our suggestion is that we will establish an investigation with other stakeholders such as the CPP, human rights organizations and civil society organizations,” he said, naming the U.N. specifically.
“We want to set up a new mechanism, in a new framework, resulting from a political agreement to solve these electoral disputes,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thursday that while Mr. Hun Sen said publicly that he was open to a joint party investigation under the auspices of the NEC, it was still ultimately up to the NEC to decide whether one will be created or not.
“Hun Sen as the prime minister has introduced this idea and welcomed this idea of participating in a joint commission by the NEC, but he respects the NEC and its competencies,” Mr. Siphan said.
“He will not force the NEC to create an investigation,” he added.
Critics of the NEC have long accused the body of being stacked with CPP supporters and of making decisions that support the ruling party.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that while the CPP and CNRP could hold talks on their own, it was ultimately the responsibility of the NEC, as the country’s chief election commission, to facilitate such an investigation.
“Technically, they need the NEC,” he said. “They can do it alone, but the NEC is the important stakeholder in this issue.”
“The NEC should respond to the players,” he added. “The CNRP made a request and the CPP agreed, so they should try to move forward with this. The power comes from the players’ requests.”
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay agreed that it would still be best if the NEC agreed to facilitate the joint investigation.
“It’s not to do with them having authority or not having authority for this, as the NEC is responsible for ensuring free and fair elections,” he said.
“If they do not deal with their complaints in a way that satisfies the opposition, national observers and international observers, they are not doing their job properly,” Mr. Chhay said of the NEC.
Mr. Nytha said in a separate statement issued Wednesday night that the NEC would release the final election results no later than September 8.
“The NEC will announce the officials results and the seat division [in the National Assembly] for the political parties after it finishes resolving all the complaints,” he said.