The power balance at the National Election Committee – a body reformed after the 2013 elections in an effort to make it a bipartisan institution – yesterday shifted further towards the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, as three new members were announced, including one with close ties to the ruling party.
The three appointees are Nuth Sokhom, who will be the deputy chief of the NEC, Dim Sovannarom, and Hel Sarat from the Khmer Nationality Party. They were selected among five candidates, according to CPP National Assembly spokesperson Chheang Vun.
The 13-member National Assembly permanent committee approved the appointments after the candidates were either put forward by each opposition party or applied on their own. The committee normally includes non-ruling party members, but with the Cambodia National Rescue Party now dissolved, only CPP committee members voted on the makeup of the NEC.
Sokhom, who was nominated by Funcinpec, resigned from his position as a lawmaker just two days after he was sworn in, in accordance with the law.
He and Aing Sambo – a new lawmaker also sworn in on Tuesday – were implicated in a 2011 scandal involving misappropriated funds from donors as a senior staffer and head, respectively, of the National AIDS Authority.
Sokhom said he was surprised when asked about the allegations now. “I don’t know whether it will affect me . . . I almost forgot about it,” he said.
Sovannarom currently is deputy director of the government’s Cambodia Human Rights Committee and the director of public affairs at the Khmer Rouge tribunal (ECCC), and has strong ties to the CPP. He will now need to resign from his current positions. According to an ECCC press release, he was promoted to ECCC public affairs chief at the same time Huy Vannak – now an Interior Ministry official – joined the team in June 2011.
A former co-worker, who requested anonymity, said Sovannarom was responsible for the CPP election campaign in Takeo in 2013. “[He was] very close to [Deputy Prime Minister] Sok An, who handpicked him to ECCC,” they said.
Sovannarom declined to comment yesterday. Leng Peng Long, the National Assembly spokesperson, said Sovannarom applied for the position on his own, which appears to contradict the process enshrined in law, which says four NEC members should be “recruited” by non-ruling parties and four others by the ruling party. One article in the law does allow for independent applications, but only when the permanent committee cannot reach a decision.
San Chey, country director of NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the relationship between Sovannarom and the government could make the NEC further biased. The nine-member body is supposed to balanced between ruling party and opposition, with one “neutral” member. Chey said the round of appointments merely “fulfils the quota” rather than strengthening the institution.