Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Political parties call on the NEC to improve the electoral system

A motorist drives past the National Election Committee office in Phnom Penh on April 11, 2022. (CamboJA / Pring Samrang)
A motorist drives past the National Election Committee office in Phnom Penh on April 11, 2022. (CamboJA / Pring Samrang)

Five political parties this week urged the National Election Committee to change its procedure and electoral laws, saying irregularities occurred during the commune election to such an extent that it was neither free nor fair.

Representatives from Grassroots Democratic Party, Kampuchea Niyum Party, Khmer Will Party, Reform Party, and the Candlelight Party — the only party apart from the CPP to win any commune council seats — have met twice since the June 5 polls to discuss irregularities they say they observed during the election and will soon hold a final meeting before presenting their findings to the NEC.

The preliminary results unveiled by the NEC, showed that the CPP won 1,648 out of a total 1,652 commune chief positions, while the Candlelight Party won just four — three in Kampong Thom province and one in Kampong Cham province. Seventeen parties in total contested the election.

Sam Inn, secretary-general of GDP, said that the five parties documented irregularities that included the presence of armed forces and local authorities at polling stations, as well as local officials who recorded voter’s names when they came to vote.

He said that political leaders from the five parties will have a meeting to finalize their findings — and then will submit them to the NEC, Interior Ministry, and CPP, urging them to reform the electoral law and address the irregularities that occurred during the latest election.

“The presence of commune councillors who were standing near polling stations and had voter lists in their hand, it has caused disturbance, fear that has made people [voters] unable to make a decision at their will,” Inn said.

“We need to have a clear procedure to ban local authorities from being present at polling stations after they have already voted,” he said.

The parties said they also wanted to reform the electoral law to ensure the NEC is composed of independent members and to ensure all political parties can campaign equally.

Inn said that he regretted that the NEC and ruling party have filed a complaint against Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight Party, after he raised the issue of irregularities in local media.

“We are disappointed [with the lawsuit] but we do not stop our advocating,” Inn said.

Voters at a polling station in Phnom Penh prepare to elect their commune councillors, Picture taken June 5, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The NEC filed a lawsuit last week against Chhay claiming he had defamed the committee by claiming there had been vote-rigging in the commune election. The ruling CPP filed its own complaint seeking $1 million in compensation from Chhay, who also accused the NEC of bias in favor of the ruling party.

Ou Chanrath, vice president of Reform Party, which didn’t win any commune council seats, said that his party’s observers witnessed the same irregularities.

“We have suggested changing some procedures of NEC, including NEC’s members,” he said, noting that the public does not have confidence that the current nine members of NEC are independent.

Chanrath also claimed the CPP taught voters how to cast their polls with images showing a tick for the CPP, and that this could be seen as urging a vote for the CPP.

“We will continue our discussion and demand that NEC consider the irregularities that happened,” Chanrath said.

He added that the NEC should not take legal action against any individuals who criticized the recent election, and rather focus on addressing them — otherwise next year’s national election will likely not be viewed as trustworthy.

“I think that it will be difficult to build trust for the public and voters,” he said.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea, said that NEC welcomes all comments from relevant parties but noted not all requests can be solved through the NEC.

“The NEC still has to adhere to a spirit of the law because the law has stipulated to allow the NEC to conduct the election, so all requests need to follow the rules,” he said.

“The political parties who will submit a proposal, they don’t have the influence to order the NEC to change whatever they want, because the NEC was formed in the spirit of the Constitution,” Puthea said, adding that the National Assembly approved the composition of NEC. Previously, the NEC was composed of four members appointed by the opposition party and four by the ruling party, along with one from civil society. After the dissolution of the opposition CNRP in 2017, when their seats were reassigned to the ruling party, the opposition members resigned and were replaced by ruling party members. Since the CNRP seats were reallocated, all 125 National Assembly seats have been held by the ruling party.

Sok Eysan, spokesman for ruling CPP, said that it is impossible to ban local authorities from polling stations because they are also voters.

“We can’t satisfy the losers. Elections have been held 11 times without problem and during those times, commune chiefs, district chief and provincial governors went to vote. Why  have they just raised those issues today?” he said.

Plang Sophal, deputy prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court confirmed on Tuesday that the case against Son Chhay is under investigation but no charges have been filed yet.

Chhay, who is now living in Australia, told CamboJA that he will return to Cambodia next week.

“I have nothing to worry about because if both the CPP and NEC are happy to file a lawsuit against me, it is up to them, it is their right to do so,” he said.

Em Sovannara, a political analyst, said he supported the efforts of the five parties.

“If [the NEC] has ignored what political parties have requested to change, it will affect the neutrality of members of the National Election Committee, including affecting the next election,” he said.

“If members of the National Election Committee are still refusing to change, it will show no transparency or free and fair elections.”

Korn Savang, an advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel), said that regardless of the small party requests, everything comes down to the will of the ruling party.

“If the ruling party [CPP] has considered everything is fine, even their [minor parties] efforts will not work because the legislative, the executive — including the NEC — are under one party,” he said. (Additional reporting by Kheang Sokmmean)