Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Five parties urge changes to the electoral laws

(From left). Yeng Virak, president of GDP, Yang Saing Koma, chairman board director at GDP, Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight party, Kong Monika, president of Khmer Will party and Ou Chanrath, vice president of Cambodia Reform Party hold a press conference in Phnom Penh, July 11, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
(From left). Yeng Virak, president of GDP, Yang Saing Koma, chairman board director at GDP, Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight party, Kong Monika, president of Khmer Will party and Ou Chanrath, vice president of Cambodia Reform Party hold a press conference in Phnom Penh, July 11, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Five opposition parties that have been pushing for a change in the electoral law called for a constitutional amendment to reform membership of the National Election Committee.

At a press conference Monday in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district, party leaders from the Grassroots Democratic Party, Khmer Will Party, Cambodia Reform Party, and the Candlelight Party called for a slew of electoral reforms following the June commune election — which they maintain were rife with irregularities. Representatives from Kampuchea Niyum weren’t present but they, too, have joined in the statements.

Yeng Virak, president of Grassroot Democratic Party, said since the ruling CPP had long ignored requests to change membership of the election committee they were pushing for a constitutional amendment.

“In addition to reforming the electoral laws, we have also demanded to amend the constitution to change the members of NEC,” he said.

The joint parties have been pushing for NEC neutrality. Previously, the election committee was made up of equal numbers of opposition and ruling party nominees — a practice that stopped after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved in 2017.

Cambodia Reform Party vice president, Ou Chanrath, said that NEC members have had no credibility since the dissolution of the CNRP and had been criticized by national and international monitors.

“We must put an independent person to [lead] NEC members,” he said. Currently, the NEC is appointed by the National Assembly which is made up only of members of the ruling party.

Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight Party, noted that his party received about 2 million votes in the last election, giving them sufficient strength to negotiate with the ruling CPP.

“When we have joined together, we can resolve, and a priority we have to resolve first to ensure the neutrality of members of NEC so that we can compete in the 2023 election,” he said.

He added that the EU’s partial withdrawal of Cambodia’s ‘Everything But Arms’ preferential trade status, will also allow for negotiations as EU parliamentarians had said observers will be monitoring whether elections remain free and fair.

The official results released by the NEC showed the CPP won 74.3 percent of the vote compared to the opposition Candlelight Party’s 22.3 percent.

The CPP won 1,648 out of a total of the country’s 1,652 commune chief positions, with the Candlelight Party taking just four.

Of 17 parties to contest the June 5 election, the ruling party won 9,376 seats, followed by the Candlelight Party with 2,198 seats, while royalist Funcinpec won 19 seats. The Khmer National United Party won 13 seats, the Grassroots Democratic Party took six seats, the Khmer National Love Party won 5 seats, and the Cambodian Youth Party three. The Kampuchea Niyum Party and the Beehive Social Democratic Party received one seat each.

Journalists cover the press conference of opposition political parties in Phnom Pneh, July 11, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, said that five political parties are minority voices, meaning they can’t make the government or the National Assembly consider their requests for amending the electoral laws or the constitution.

“In my opinion, it does not work for those four or five parties [to request changes to the NEC],” he said.

“I think that the Cambodian People’s Party has no intention to meet them because we have different views,” he added.

Hang Puthea, spokesman for the NEC, said that the current committee has not finished serving its term, so the request to change members doesn’t comply with the constitution.

“There is no election that has done perfectly in the world, both in the United States and France,” he added.

He said that the NEC welcomes all requests made by stakeholders but it isn’t responsible for amending the laws.

Korn Savang, an advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said that the government must ensure elections are free and fair.

“Problems that civil society groups have found are important for the electoral process,” he said.

Comfrel, Youth Resources Development program (YRDP), the People Centre for Development and Peace, Adhoc, and Central last month released a

 preliminary report detailing irregularities their monitors witnessed at the polls.

These included polling stations observers being banned from entering or taking photos. Some stations closed the windows while counting ballots to block people from watching, while others failed to publicly display the results after counting. (Additional reporting by Kheang Sokmean)

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