A senior government official acknowledged for the first time Monday the possible overhaul of the National Election Committee, the government-established body overseeing elections.
NEC reform has been a major goal for election monitors, who say the dominant Cambodia People’s Party is unfairly favored by the committee.
During National Assembly debate of the commune election law, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said he was “hopeful” that the NEC would be reshuffled to at least include one member of the Sam Rainsy Party, which has so far been excluded from the committee.
Sar Kheng told lawmakers he has discussed the matter with National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who has ordered Assembly Legislative Commission Chairman Monh Saphan to investigate how the opposition party can be included in the NEC.
“We understand [the opposition party’s] concern and there will be an examination on this,” Sar Kheng said, though no date has been given for the possible NEC changes.
Election monitors have long complained that the current makeup of the NEC undermines Cambodia’s election efforts. They contend that to go ahead with the commune elections without significant changes to the committee could taint future elections—specifically the 2003 national balloting—and erode voter confidence.
Election monitors have called for a drastic reduction of the NEC from 11 members to five. Thun Saray, who heads one of Cambodia’s three main election monitoring groups, said Monday if the NEC remains an 11-member group, at least five of those members should not be affiliated with any political party.
Thun Saray also urged lawmakers to makes changes as soon as possible. “They have to argue this in advance of the elections, not afterwards when there will be a big problem,” he said.
Under the draft commune election law, the NEC is charged with organizing election sub-committees meant to work out the logistics of elections in individual communes. The NEC will also oversee voter and candidate registration.
The NEC came under fire during the 1998 national elections for allowing inexperienced monitors to observe elections. To help solve this problem, the government has proposed forming a coordinating committee made up of NGOs.
But election monitors have criticized this idea, claiming it takes away from their own power to observe elections “Why would they let inexperienced groups do this work?” Thun Saray asked.