UN Envoy Optimistic Despite NEC’s Refusal to Reform

Despite a stubborn refusal by the government to act upon his electoral reform recommendations over the past two years, U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi walked away from his meeting with National Election Committee chairman Im Suosdey on Tuesday espousing optimism.

“The process of reform is always a challenging one for any country, and more so for a country like Cambodia, with its own complexities,” Mr. Subedi said. “But again, I’m glad that many of my recommendations have now become a part of the national agenda.”

In a July 2012 report to the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Subedi warned that a failure to reform state institutions, including the NEC, could destabilize the country and lead to violence. His warning proved prophetic, as government forces have killed at least seven people—either protesters or protest bystanders—since July’s disputed national election.

But Mr. Subedi said Tuesday that Mr. Suosdey was “always candid and constructive in my dialogue,” and was “forthcoming with information and helpful in his approach to some of the issues the country has been facing today.”

At the top of the opposition CNRP’s demands to end its ongoing boycott of the National Assembly is the complete overhaul of the NEC, which is currently stacked with officials—Mr. Suosdey included—who are closely aligned with the ruling CPP.

Mr. Subedi said the meeting dealt largely with July’s election and how he might contribute to a resolution to the political deadlock.

“The time has come to overhaul the electoral process and carry out a serious reform in a comprehensive manner,” he said.

However, the latest round of political talks, held last week, faltered when the CPP delegation insisted on electing new members of the NEC by a simple majority in the National Assembly, which would once again allow the CPP to handpick NEC members without any checks.

Mr. Suosdey could not be reached for comment after the meeting, but NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said the chairman had explained that while some technical changes have been made, such as the placement of two CPP-aligned judges onto the NEC, he declined to answer questions about plans for further reforms.

“In fact, the NEC does not have the competence to reform—we have to wait until [National Assembly members] are ready to reform the law and we have to implement the law,” Mr. Nytha said.

“So the NEC just told [Mr. Subedi] that we cannot answer this.”

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