Sam Rainsy Party Threatens to Drop Out of NEC Selection

Opposition party leaders say they may refuse to put up another candidate for the National Elec­tion Committee and forfeit their seat on that body following Wednes­day’s rejection by the National Assembly of the Sam Rainsy Party’s NEC appointment.

The opposition party’s secretary-general, Son Chhay, said Thurs­day the NEC will have completed most of the preparatory work for next year’s commune elections by the time another opposition candidate can be nominated and successfully voted onto the NEC.

“Important election councils are being approved right now without Sam Rainsy Party participation….In a another month the whole process will be complete and then being [an NEC] member will mean nothing,” Son Chhay said.

The opposition has pushed hard during the last year for an NEC seat. Cambodian law re­quires that any political party with National Assembly representation also have a presence on the el­ec­tion body. Sam Rainsy Party member Kuoy Bun Roeun’s candidacy had been endorsed in a letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen to National Assembly Presi­dent Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

But Kuoy Bun Roeun only received 42 of the 62 votes needed to win the seat Wednesday, lea­d­ing Hun Sen to suggest Sam Rainsy sabotaged his candidate’s chances by criticizing the NEC shortly before the vote.

Son Chhay said party leaders are still weighing their options, but suggested perhaps new NEC mem­bers should be approved only by lawmakers in their own parties rather than by the National Assembly as a whole.

“If we have to beg the ruling party to approve our candidate, that would mean nothing,” he said.

Son Chhay said the Assembly’s failure to elect an opposition mem­ber to the NEC will reflect badly on the government as it goes into this month’s donor meet­­ing in Tokyo. The international community is expected to pay for almost all of the commune elections, which are estimated to cost around $24 million.

“By allowing the NEC to operate without the opposition, it means the government is going to abandon the democratic pro­cess to create free and fair elections,” he said.

An NEC member acknowledged Thursday the Sam Rainsy Party is entitled to NEC representation, saying, “Accor­ding to the law the Sam Rainsy Party should be an NEC member.”

“The law is the law, and [the NEC] has to respect the law,” he said, but added that the NEC is waiting for the government to find a resolution to the issue.

The NEC, appointed before the 1998 national elections, reflects a different political landscape and contains members belonging to parties that no longer exist.

Until Wednesday, Funcinpec had no firm presence on the NEC, but close royalist ally Uong Kheng was voted to replace Tea Cham­rath, who had left Funcin­pec but remained an NEC board member.

The NEC has come under hea­vy fire from election monitors who claim it unfairly favored the CPP during the 1998 elections and remains prejudiced toward the ruling party, particularly without an opposition member.

The NEC “should be a joint effort between all the parties, and with only two parties you may have problems—the people do not trust this, they want to see the NEC is neutral,” said Sek Sophal, executive director of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections.

Sek Sophal said the Sam Rain­sy Party’s refusal to seek an NEC seat could tip power toward the CPP and Funcinpec, who monitors allege have already begun to negotiate election results months before a vote is cast in a series of meetings billed as cooperative efforts between the partners to wipe out election-related violence.



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