Coming Clean? New Election Law in Cambodia Controversial

Partyforumseasia: Election outcomes depend to a rather high degree on the electoral law applied. But the law, if it is fair, must be applied and respected, competing parties must campaign with a minimum of fairness, and there must be a mechanism to detect and punish fraud. Sufficiently free and fair elections are by no means international or Southeast Asian standard or common practice, and Cambodia’s last parliamentary election in July 2013 turned out to be one of the most controversial elections after the country’s return to parliamentary rule. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) felt cheated of a majority it thought it had won and boycotted the new parliament for the ten following months. The boycott ended in July 2014 with a compromise, the main agreement being the implementation of a new electoral law and a bipartisan and neutral National Election Commission (NEC). After seven months of drafting the new law has been presented to the public by Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin and CNRP official Kuoy Bunroeun on 9 March. The unusual Wahlbetrugsituation now is that ruling party and opposition have come to a compromise but have to defend it now against a number of NGOs, among them the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (Comfrel), Transparency International Cambodia, the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy believes that the law can be passed by end this month together with a new law for the National Election Committee (NEC). The NGOs want more consultations concerning their doubts about a number of details. They criticize among others articles 156 and 162 which could lead to the disqualification of a party from contesting if one of their officials violates articles of the law. According to articles 68 and 72 violations of the restricted time and number of rallies during the 21-day official campaign could also lead to disqualification. The same is stated in article 152 for insulting or instigating discrimination on “an ethnic person, or a group of a nation or race, or any religion”. Disqualification and hefty fines of 10 to 30 million Riel (about $2,470 to $7,410) seem to aim at the anti-Vietnamese rhetoric used by the opposition against the CPP before the compromise.

In regional and international comparison the Cambodian debate is very unusual. A certainly difficult compromise between CPP and CNRP to level the playing field for the next elections comes under pressure from NGOs, the politically more aware and outspoken part of the Cambodian society. But they do have a reason to worry because their role in the campaigns and election process is also regulated and reduced. The new law includes hefty $2,500 to $5,000 fines for those who insult parties (sic!).
NGO staff can be fined for direct or indirect speech or texts that insult a party or a candidate, or support them in a partisan way. Publishing opinion polls in support of parties or candidates is banned as well.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy promises to keep the last version of the law open to fine-tuning after debate. But shoulder to shoulder with the CPP he has to defend the compromise.
The National Election Commission will have four members each from the two parties (who have to give up their party membership, though) and an even more neutral ninth member who can decide in case of stalemates. Both parties would like to see the president of respected NGO Licadho, Ms Pung Chhiv Kek, as the ninth member. But she has her own preconditions and may refuse the position and embarrass the politicians.

By mere coincidence, “Coca-Cola and David Puttnam, the producer of the 1984 film “The Killing Fields,” have been recruited by the government to help shift the world’s image of Cambodia away from land mines and corruption and toward one of a booming economy and easy business, the commerce minister said Thursday.”
(The Cambodia Daily, 6 March 2015))

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