‘Minimum conditions’ for elections outlined

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Voters line up for the national election at a polling station in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district in June, 2018. Heng Chivoan

A group of 64 NGOs and associations made recommendations in an open letter to the government which they declared were the “minimum conditions” for the coming 2022 commune council elections to be legitimate, based on what they say are the broadly recognised principles of all genuine, free and fair elections.

The recommendations included allowing all political parties to actively participate in political activities and stand for elections and revisions to the composition of the National Election Committee (NEC).

They also urged greater political neutrality and independence for the armed forces and courts and the ability for the media and civil society organisations to operate freely.

The NGOs and associations signing the statement include the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc), Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA), Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL), Cambodian Institute for Democracy (CID), Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (Licadho), Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association (CamboJa) and a number of other labour unions, student organisations, rights organisations and indigenous communities.

Yong Kim Eng, director of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, which is one of the undersigned NGOs, told The Post on July 15 that the aim of making these recommendations was to call for all relevant parties and stakeholders to participate in the 2022 commune elections and to ensure they are held freely and fairly.

He said the recommendations were made to clarify the situation and enable an environment where a political solution that allows all political parties to run candidates in the elections and contest them freely and without fear of reprisal.

“We wanted all political parties to end the conflicts that arise every time there is an election and we want to propose solutions and for them to forgive each other in order to find a way forward between Khmer and Khmer,” he said.

The NGOs, unions and associations said they wanted to see people actively participate in the election process and to see political parties express their views and criticisms in a constructive manner.

Kim Eng added that Cambodia had experienced all kinds of problems in regards to its elections and those issues made a great many people and political parties worried and fed up with the election process, but he believed Cambodian politicians could do what the organisations requested and wanted to see happen.

NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the elections organised by the NEC follow the law fully as stipulated in the Constitution and therefore, the requests by the organisations and associations are not up to the NEC to decide upon and out of their hands essentially.

“The advocacy by any civil organisation or group must get to the point of what they really want and whatever that is must be significantly in agreement with all the legal aspects because the NEC is performing its role in organising elections based on the laws. Relevant stakeholders have assessed every election as acceptable,” he said.

Puthea said the NEC is already preparing for Cambodia’s commune council elections, which are set to take place on June 5 next year.

Cambodia Reform Party (CRP) founder Ou Chanrath supported the recommendations, saying they were all relevant to the forthcoming elections, but he did not expect that they will be taken under serious consideration until there is a change in the NEC’s leadership.

He said although the NEC claimed to be independent and neutral, that was impossible because its chairman and the majority of its members were appointed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

He said if the NEC wants the public’s trust, its chairperson must be appointed by NGOs, professors or some acceptable neutral body.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the CPP-led government has never restricted rights and freedoms or bullied and threatened anyone during any election period. However, he did point out that the law bans any insults that affect the dignity of others.

“No country has ever had unlimited rights and freedoms, let alone Cambodia. Not even in the US or England and France. For example, during the European football tournaments the English fans made a mess on the pitch. Now, they are wanted by the law. That’s how it is,” he said.