Political parties prepare for commune council elections

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Voters cast their ballots during the national election in 2018 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. Heng Chivoan

In the lead-up to the 5th commune council elections scheduled for June 5, political parties have been preparing their list of candidates and developing political platforms, though some of them claim not to believe in the authority of the National Election Committee (NEC) or view it as a valid institution governing the Kingdom’s elections.

Cambodian Reform Party (CRP) founder Ou Chanrath told The Post on December 5 that his party was definitely planning on fielding candidates in the elections, though he could not yet determine the exact number of candidates who will be participating.

Chanrath explained that there were numerous issues that prevented his party from being able to select enough candidates to be able to run for office in every commune across the country.

He said the reasons were due to a relatively short time to prepare since the recent founding of his party, Covid-19 issues. And he claimed that some remained fearful of arrest and intimidation by the government or ruling party and were therefore reluctant to be associated with former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials and supporters.

He also said that both members of his party and the general public may hesitate to go to the polls because they do not have much trust in the NEC as it is composed entirely of members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), unlike when it included opposition officials as well.

“I don’t trust the NEC, but in the past we’ve participated in a number of elections whether we trusted them or not. We know that from 1998 until 2017, only in 1993 and 2017 did we have much confidence in the outcomes because of the positive national and international assessments of the elections. We are still participating, however, because we have no other choice,” he said.

Similarly, Khmer Rise Party (KRP) president Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung said his party is ready to participate in the upcoming elections, though he does not have full confidence in the NEC.

“We know that the NEC chairman is from the CPP … What are the odds that we’ll have any hope of winning given that? When the NEC’s chairman is from the CPP, we’ll find it hard to believe the results are totally honest,” he said.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the CPP was currently preparing documents to gradually nominate candidates to the NEC prior to the deadline to participate in the elections.

As for the accusations and purported lack of trust on the NEC, Eysan dismissed them as baseless and that the elections will proceed as they would normally.

He explained that the NEC was organised through constitutional amendments which made the organisation a constitutional body, and that the law on the organisation and functioning of the NEC was approved by lawmakers from both parties in the National Assembly – the CPP and the former main opposition CNRP. Therefore, he said, no one has any basis to allege that the NEC is biased and in favour of one side or the other.

“The NEC is organised in accordance with the law. NEC members are no longer members of a political party whether they used to be in this party or that party. Now they work independently in accordance with the law on the preparation and functioning of our elections and they follow the election law,” he said.

NEC spokesman Som Sorida declined to comment on politicians’ rhetoric about their lack of confidence in the NEC, saying only that the origin of the NEC members from a given party was not important. What matters, he said, is that the NEC respects and abides by the laws.

He said the NEC has to follow the Constitution and the law on the functioning of the national electoral body, along with other election laws that refer to the implementation of its roles and responsibilities as set out in the four stages of the election process.

“The first stage is to prepare the voter list, the second is to register the political parties and list of candidates, the third is the election campaign and the fourth is to count the ballots and announce the election results. We are confident that the current NEC is fulfilling its roles in accordance with the law,” he said.