The Ministry of Interior has sent its nominees for the National Election Committee to the National Assembly—a list that is drawing criticism from lawmakers and election observers.
The five proposed “Khmer dignitaries” are Im Suosdey, currently the NEC secretary-general; Nge Chhay Lieng, deputy chief of Cabinet for the Ministry of Interior and a close aide to Funcinpec co-Minister You Hockry; Mean Sati, president of the Battambang Provincial Election Committee; Koy Vet, executive director of the NGO Khmer Women Media Center; and Sin Chum Bo, who works for an unidentified NGO.
Officials at both the Assembly and the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that this list was sent to the Assembly last week.
Assembly Secretary-General Chan Ven said the Assembly’s Permanent Committee would discuss the candidates on Oct 11. The upcoming Assembly session begins in mid-October.
The candidates are “all able and suitable to lead the next National Election Committee,” said Sak Setha, director general of the ministry’s Department of Administration.
“The ministry had reason to select all of these people, and we believe these dignitaries can win the support of the people. They are not involved in politics. They are professionals,” Sak Setha said.
But outspoken Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy said some of the nominees are solidly aligned with the two parties in the coalition government, especially Im Suosdey, who is nominated to chair the new NEC.
“Im Suosdey is strongly aligned with the CPP, everyone knows that,” Keo Remy said. “He was second-in-command in the NEC before. Why have they selected the person who was responsible for the problems last time to lead the organization again?”
Several attempts to reach Im Suosdey by phone Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Keo Remy proposed his own NEC reform legislation, envisioning a partisan committee with equal representation from the three major political parties. Instead, the Interior Ministry successfully proposed a five-member NEC of “Khmer dignitaries,” claiming these intellectuals would be more impartial.
Sak Setha acknowledged that some of the candidates had ties to political parties but said none was a major political figure.
Democracy advocate Lao Mong Hay said he didn’t believe the nominees had the capacity to run a national election. Although Im Suosdey “has expertise,” Lao Mong Hay said “some of the people selected do not have experience with elections.”
He noted that the new NEC law, passed by the Assembly last month, does not prohibit members from having political connections; it only requires them to resign from any political parties before taking a seat on the NEC. “This does not guarantee independence,” he noted.
Kek Galabru, chair of the Neutral, Impartial Committee for Fair Elections and president of the human rights group Licadho, criticized the ministry for selecting the nominees behind closed doors.
“NGO workers appealed for a selection committee” made up of civil society members, “but their appeal was turned down by the National Assembly,” she noted.
Nominees chosen without transparency by the ministry will not gain the trust of the people, she said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said his lawmakers would boycott the Assembly and lead large demonstrations if the current list of candidates came up for a vote. He claimed he spoke not only for his party but also for Prince Norodom Chakrapong’s Khmer Soul Party and Pen Sovann’s National Sustaining Party, which appear to have formed a loose alliance with the opposition.
Sam Rainsy said most of the proposed NEC members were difficult to criticize because no one had ever heard of them.
Nge Chhay Lieng said Wednesday he had not yet been notified of his nomination.
“If it’s true, I would be happy to be one of the dignitaries to lead the NEC,” he said. “I will work for the best interests of the country. We will implement all the requirements of the law to make the NEC run smoothly.”