A vote at the National Assembly to officially select the nine members of the new National Election Committee (NEC) was on Wednesday rescheduled for Thursday, hours after the names of the presumptive candidates were leaked.
Officials from the CPP and CNRP had touted Monday for the National Assembly’s vote to select the candidates but announced the change of schedule after a meeting at the parliament building Wednesday.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng told reporters following the meeting that the four selections from each party as well as the ninth neutral candidate had been put into one list for a package vote this morning.
“We have combined all three into one list to request the National Assembly to pass that. Before, we planned to vote on April 13, 2015, the day before Khmer New Year, but now we agree to vote tomorrow,” Mr. Kheng said.
“Based on this law, they are required to pass it all together. It means that if they fail, they all fail together,” he added.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told reporters that the approval of the new NEC members would usher in greater political stability for Cambodia.
“This is our hope: A new year, a new hope, a new period for Cambodia that will see elections that are good, no problems like in the past,” Mr. Rainsy said.
“If someone loses, they will accept that with satisfaction. If they win it, they will accept that with satisfaction.”
According to Wednesday’s leaked lists, the ruling party has chosen CPP lawmaker Sik Bunhok—who it identified as the NEC chairman —along with current NEC members Mean Satik and Em Sopath and former Interior Ministry official Duch Sorn.
The CNRP chose former opposition lawmaker and NEC member Kuoy Bunroeun, Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association president Rong Chhun, retired government official Te Manirong and Hing Thirith, a Supreme Court prosecutor and former judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Mr. Thirith was removed as a judge at the municipal court in 2004 after he dropped widely-derided charges against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun over the murder of union leader Chea Vichea.
He was at that time sent to the Stung Treng Provincial Court in the country’s far north, before returning to Phnom Penh to work at the Supreme Court in 2009.
Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, is listed by both parties as the ninth “neutral” candidate.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech at the National Education Institute on Wednesday that the rescheduled vote for the NEC meant that the country’s “political situation” would come to an end.
“The political situation is approaching the end tomorrow,” Mr. Hun Sen said, explaining that the rescheduling of the vote had come at the request of Mr. Rainsy. “It has been agreed, so tomorrow we will vote,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen also hit back at critics of the two new election laws that the parties passed last month.
“Cambodians and foreigners have said the new election law is worse than the old law, and others say this new law does not comply with constitutional law,” he said.
“I want to make it clear to all of you that neither Cambodian nor foreigner has the right to interpret [the validity of the law],” he said. “If it opposed the Constitution, the Constitutional Council of Cambodia would have already dropped this law.”
Speaking by telephone after the meeting at the National Assembly, Mr. Rainsy said that Thursday’s vote may allow the new NEC to form next week.
“We hope to complete all the procedures on the 13th of April, so only a day before the Khmer New Year,” he said. “We are not sure if we will be able to do it all on that day, but we will try our best.”
“There are three things that need to be done,” he said.
“One is to get the signature from the king, who is in Beijing. Second is to have the nine members sworn in. The third and last thing is to organize the transfer of positions from the old NEC to the new NEC members.”
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim and Alex Willemyns)