Reformed Election Commission Likely to Be Delayed by Stalled Talks

The electoral reform working groups from the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP have canceled both their scheduled meetings this week and are now unlikely to complete talks in time for the new election commission to be created next month, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said Monday.

Delegations from each party have been meeting twice a week to discuss changes to the national election law, after their success last year negotiating the legislation to create a new bipartisan National Election Committee (NEC).

Both parties say the law to create the NEC can only be sent to parliament once the amended national election law is complete, but Mr. Chhay Eang, a CNRP negotiator, said the original goal to finish by the end of February now seems unrealistic.

“There are no talks on the election law this week, and the postponement will mean the talks can’t finish on the set schedule,” Mr. Chhay Eang said, explaining that it may become necessary to schedule more frequent meetings.

“If we see the talks could be late, we can add more meetings, like we could meet three or four days a week to replace the cancellations of two meetings this week.”

The groups have not met for discussions since January 19, with last Friday’s meeting canceled to allow the groups to meet with a delegation of election experts from the European Union.

Speaking after those meetings, Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who leads the CPP group, said delays in something as unpredictable as negotiations are to be expected, particularly when he also had work to do in government.

“Of course, a plan is a plan, but I also need to perform my job too. I have tried my best, as we just met once a week previously and then we sped up the work by meeting twice a week,” Mr. Chhin said.

“Plans can be late by a week, or a month, and sometimes [things] can be done before the set schedule.”

The working groups from both parties have announced a number of controversial suggestions for the new election law over the past two weeks, including reducing the campaign period for the national election from 30 days to 14 days.

The CNRP has said that they cannot accept such a proposal. Yet the opposition party has been more pliant on other issues, such as a CPP-proposed ban on NGOs giving media interviews or issuing “insulting” statements during election campaigns.

Mr. Chhay Eang said Monday that another proposal that the opposition appeared open to—banning foreigners from taking part in or expressing political opinions during campaigns—is not acceptable to the CNRP.

“We don’t support this suggestion because, for example, if a husband is a candidate, then the foreign wife cannot take part in an election campaign,” he said. “We cannot ban that.”

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