Sticking Points Remain as Parties Edge Toward NEC Agreement

Officials from the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP said Monday that technical talks over the creation of a new National Election Committee (NEC) are finished and that it is now up to top party leaders to resolve remaining issues.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy also said Monday that he would seek to contact Prime Minister Hun Sen in the coming days in order to expedite the creation of the new NEC.

A working group composed of members of both parties has been meeting regularly at the National Assembly to hammer out the new law—agreed to in a July 22 political deal—that will be brought to parliament to establish the new election commission.

Kuoy Bunroeun, a CNRP official who has led his party in the talks, acknowledged Monday that the most divisive issues, including whether dual nationals should be banned from the new election body, remain unresolved.

Yet Mr. Bunroeun said the parties agreed Monday that the new law will stipulate that the president, vice president and seven other members of the NEC must be appointed six months before a new parliament forms.

“We completely finished the technical work today, but we will meet again next week to review what we have and have not reached agreements on and then make a report to the leaders,” Mr. Bunroeun said.

The CNRP’s 55 lawmakers agreed to end their 10-month boycott of their National Assembly seats on July 22 in exchange for an overhaul of the NEC, which is currently run by officials loyal to the CPP.

Under the deal, each party will appoint four members and then decide together on a neutral candidate for the ninth position. If the two parties fail to reach a deal on the new NEC, the current CPP-dominated election body will remain in place.

In the week following July 22, both parties said they had selected Pung Chhiv Kek, president of local rights group Licadho, for the ninth spot. But in the recent talks, the CPP said they now want to ban people with dual citizenship from ascending to the new NEC.

Ms. Chhiv Kek holds citizenship in Cambodia, Canada and France.

Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who has headed the CPP delegation in the talks, reiterated Monday that such a demand was not intended to prevent Ms. Chhiv Kek from taking her place on the new NEC.

“Like I have said before, the matter of nationalities is not written aimed to target anyone in particular,” Mr. Chhin said.

“In fact, it stems from the fact that the partner parties want the NEC to be ‘perfectly good’—to be independent, neutral, and especially to put this institution as a constitutional body, while it’s currently not,” he said.

Mr. Chhin suggested that the CNRP was on board with the CPP’s demands and said members of a new NEC under such a system “will have to renounce their two or three nationalities and just keep their Cambodian nationality.”

“We want it to be very good, and so we have together agreed absolutely that there must be one nationality and no blood-relations [among the members],” Mr. Chhin said.

Mr. Rainsy, the opposition leader, said the resolutions of Monday’s meeting represented progress from earlier draft laws that included requirements for the NEC secretary-general to have five years experience inside the body.

“I have just received the feedback…and I intend to resolve the remaining issues in the next few days,” he said.

“We will talk again, the top leaders of the two parties. This [nationality issue] is the main point remaining, and also that wives and children of any party presidents are not allowed to apply—but that is less crucial,” Mr. Rainsy said.

The CNRP president also said the CPP was pushing to give the president of the NEC special executive powers that could not be vetoed by a vote of the nine-member body.

“Of the nine members, we want any decision to have the support of at least five members,” Mr. Rainsy said Monday. “They want to give decision-making power to the president on issues such as the appointment of the secretary-general.”

In October, Interior Ministry Secretary of State Prum Sokha said in a radio interview that the CPP had only agreed to the reform of the NEC because it understood that it would continue to control the presidency of the election body.

Mr. Rainsy said he believed the ruling party wanted the position and that they would try to take it by insisting on a “package vote” in the CPP-controlled National Assembly to approve the nine members of the new NEC together.

“It will be specified among those nine members who will be president and vice president, and the National Assembly will approve the package together,” he said.

But despite the sticking points, which have remained largely unchanged over the past two months, Mr. Rainsy said he was hopeful of a resolution soon.

“Sometimes things seem insurmountable, but eventually any obstacle can be ironed out,” he said.

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