Saturday, 10 August 2013

Cambodia: NEC’s Independence Key to Post-Election Stability

By and - August 9, 2013

In December 2011, Surya Subedi, the U.N.’s human rights envoy for Cambodia, visited the country to assess state institutions relevant to the electoral process.

He concluded in a report released to the U.N.’s General Assembly in July 2012 that major electoral reforms were needed to maintain peace and stability in the country.

If the electoral process is unable to command the trust and confidence of the electorate, the very foundation of the Cambodian political and constitutional architecture embodied in the Paris Peace Agreements will be shaken and the country may run the risk of a return to violence,” Mr. Subedi said in the report. 

–News Analysis

At the center of his concerns was the National Election Committee (NEC), the nine-member government body entrusted with ensuring that the will of the people is reflected in the outcome of elections.

“The National Election Commit­tee should be reformed so as to have independent and autonomous status,” the report says.

In order to achieve this, Mr. Subedi suggested that there be a consensus among political parties in the National Assembly on the appointment of the president and members of the NEC and pro­vincial election committees and said “New judicial bodies and mechanisms must be established outside the NEC in order to re­solve election-related disputes properly.”
His report was prophetic.

A year later, the NEC, which is stacked with members loyal to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, finds itself at the center of an election-related dispute that requires a resolution.

Analysts and election monitors say if violence were to occur in the aftermath of the election, it would be the result of the government’s failure to implement Mr. Subedi’s recommendations.

“The root cause of this problem is they [Mr. Hun Sen’s administration] did not respect the recommendations of the U.N. rapporteur. This would be the root cause of the violence,” said Kem Ley, an independent political analyst.

“And the underlying causes of the violence [are that] they don’t want to improve voter registration, they don’t want to improve integrity of [the] voter list, they don’t want to improve the system of the election,” he added.

Thun Saray, chairman of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia’s (Comfrel) board of directors, said that unless the NEC allows an independent body to participate in the investigation of alleged election fraud on July 28, a peaceful solution to the current political impasse would be unlikely.

“If we don’t broaden the composition [of the election investigation committee], the CNRP will not accept [the election results], and if the CNRP doesn’t accept, it is because from the beginning to now they don’t trust the NEC or the results from the CPP. [The NEC] has to facilitate discussions between [the] two parties to find a compromise,” Mr. Saray said.

“If we can do that, we have a hope to solve the problem and avoid violent conflict in the near future,” he added.

Despite what the opposition alleges was selective removal of thousands of CNRP supporters from voter lists and widespread election fraud engineered by the CPP on polling day, the CNRP won 44.5 percent of the popular vote, according to preliminary NEC results.

Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, the leaders of the opposition movement, have now said they will accept nothing less than victory and the removal of Mr. Hun Sen from power. They have also threatened, as a last resort, to hold nationwide protests and boycott the National Assembly if an independent investigation of election irregularities is not conducted outside of the authority of the NEC.

The CNRP has called for the U.N. to take the role of arbitrator in a multi-party committee, which would include the NEC and the CPP, tasked with investigating the electoral process—from voter registration, which was overseen largely by CPP-loyal commune and village chiefs, to the NEC’s ballot counting at polling stations.

Still, the NEC has pushed ahead with a timetable that will allow for only five days of investigations, which started Wednes­day, into election irregularities before releasing official preliminary results, which can be appealed to the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, another body widely considered to be CPP-aligned. The NEC has also refused calls from the CNRP and civil society groups to release documents that would allow for independent election monitors to investigate cases of possible identity fraud and election irregularities.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Thursday that a three-member subcommittee, overseen by Mr. Nytha, would be charged with reviewing 14 reports of electoral misconduct that have been filed with his committee since August 2. Seven reports were submitted by the CNRP, the CPP submitted four, Funcinpec lodged two and one report came from a local authority.

“We will bring the reports before political parties and civil society groups in order to get comments from them on what we should do to settle the cases within the reports,” Mr. Nytha said. He added that the three-member NEC committee was up to the task of conducting a thorough in­vestigation of all 14 reports before this weekend is over.

“I don’t think the subcommittee needs to do field investigations. That is why we will meet with representatives from political parties and civil society to collect information so that we can contact election officials at the local level to find out whether such allegations occurred in that area,” Mr. Nytha said.

“After consolidating [the reports], there are only a few cases to be discussed this weekend,” he said.
This investigation process, including the 48 hours reserved for deliberation by the NEC, will be completed before official preliminary election results are released by Monday, according to Mr. Nytha.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the CNRP, said that the opposition party has not decided whether it will attend the weekend meeting to discuss the complaints, but he was sure that the NEC’s investigation would not be sufficient for the CNRP and its supporters to accept the subsequent results.
“[The subcommittee] doesn’t work for us at all. We do not trust the NEC anymore. We don’t want to talk about this, we want to talk about creating a commission that can solve the problem impartially and independently,” Mr. Sovann said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that the CNRP’s refusal to accept the results of the election went against the will of the Cambodian people. He also said that proposed demonstrations would be treated by authorities as “riots” against the government.
“They have to adhere to the rule of law. The campaign period is over. There was a clear result of the voting. Now one must talk about democratic rule of law and respect it,” he said.

“We have a good mechanism and are competent enough to take care [of disagreements] in the National Assembly rather than…incite people to go on the streets and hold demonstrations that become a riot,” he said.

“I don’t know what [CNRP leaders] reject [the election re­sults] for. Do they want to see Cambodian blood on the streets?” Mr. Siphan asked.

Whatever happens, the NEC could still play a pivotal role in bringing together the CPP and CNRP for discussions on how to move forward before the CNRP resorts to demonstrations, said Sok Sam Oeun, a lawyer and member of the board of Comfrel.
The NEC must facilitate talks between both parties and then listen to them. The situation is not only about both parties but the people, especially the people who support the CNRP. That is why both parties must talk again so that they can calm the people down,” he said.

“The people do not believe the NEC, so I think only by forming a committee and opening a transparent investigation can they avoid a demonstration.”

© 2013, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.

No comments: