NEC’s Sorida on preparations for next year’s national election

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Deputy secretary-general of the NEC, Som Sorida, in an interview with The Post in June. Yousos Apdoulrashim

The National Election Committee (NEC) has been preparing for next year’s national election, the seventh held in the modern era of Cambodian government and politics. There is still a lot of work to be done between now and the election, including important steps like voter list verification as well as voter registrations.

Som Sorida, deputy secretary-general and spokesman for the NEC, spoke with The Post on the topic of the 2023 election preparations and procedures.

Tell us a bit about the 2023 election, what are your views on it?

The 7th National Assembly election will be held on July 23, 2023. This election and every Cambodian election are very important events because – according to the Constitution of the Kingdom – Cambodia must remain a liberal multi-party democracy.

The Cambodian people are the owners of the destiny of their country, which means that all power belongs to the people. The people exercise their power through the National Assembly (NA), Senate, Royal Government and judiciary.

The Constitution also stipulates that our leaders must be elected in free, fair and direct elections held by secret ballot and a big part of the NEC’s work is to ensure that takes place.

With the next election still a year from now, is there much to do at this point or are you still focused on the last election?

There’s always plenty of work to do. For the 2023 National Assembly Election, the NEC is focused right now mainly on two important tasks – the preparation of the legal documents that lay the groundwork for the election and making plans for the actual election process.

In terms of preparing legal documents, that includes preparing regulations and procedures for verifying the voter list and registering voters so that we arrive at one official voter list that will be as up-to-date and error-free as possible for the election.

We must also write updates to the procedural guides such as the manuals for the national election commission, commune election commissions and the capital and provincial election commissions. There is also another set of guidelines related to the instructions on how to file and receive election-related complaints.

The NEC will also update the general handbook for voters as well as making sure that other legal documents related to the election are current for 2023.

We’ll also be planning for the election process, including preparing the master plan for the NA election, budget planning, scheduling a calendar of events, meetings and deadlines, checking the equipment to be used and fixing or replacing it as necessary, preparation and training of election officials and meeting with the relevant institutions and ministries regarding election security, safety and public order.

There were some complaints this year from certain political parties about the commune council election. Will the NEC be doing anything differently for next year in terms of how it handles these kinds of complaints?

Well, as you point out, the NEC not only organises the election process, but it also has the task of receiving and resolving complaints from any and all election stakeholders, whether those complaints have merit or not, we must address each of them individually.

The NEC has mechanisms for dealing with complaints at three levels: The commune election commissions, capital and provincial election commissions and the NEC itself, the actual committee.

After the NEC’s rulings are issued, there is the possibility for one more appeal to the Constitutional Council. They are the body of last resort for resolving election complaints and their decisions are final.

It is said by some that the NEC is controlled by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). What is your response to those accusations?

The current NEC is composed of people from civil society organisations along with some members of the CPP but also members of FUNCINPEC, former members of the now-dissolved CNRP and members of the Cambodian Nationality Party.

This politically diverse group of committee members will continue to perform their duties as stipulated by the law, it’s that simple.

So my answer is: No, we are not controlled by any party. Our loyalty is to the nation and the rule of law.

How does the NEC plan on cooperating with stakeholders throughout the national election process?

In our elections the stakeholders play an important role in all of the processes. The NEC works with candidates, political parties, civil society organisations that focus on issues related to elections and the government in their role providing support to the NEC in terms of security, safety and public order. And let’s not forget the electorate – the voters – who are the most important stakeholders of all.

Therefore, strengthening the above partnerships is something that the NEC has pursued firmly and successfully as its policy for past elections such as the 5th mandate commune council election of 2022 and stakeholders will remain indispensable partners in organising the upcoming 7th national election.

I would like to emphasise that according to the majority of the stakeholder’s general assessments of the 5th mandate commune council election, it took place in a peaceful and safe environment with good public order. There was no violence at all, and no serious threats.

The international observers’ assessments also said that the election was held in a manner that conformed to international standards. The NEC will continue to further strengthen our procedures for the upcoming election so that it is even smoother and more orderly than the last.

In every election it seems like the NEC receives both praise and criticism from various stakeholders. Are there any commitments for reforms or changes you’ve made so far for the 2023 election?

Recently, despite the fact that a majority of both domestic and international opinions given in publications and reports have been strongly praising the achievements of the NEC, there are still a few critics out there – especially criticisms from parties that did not win as many council seats in the election as they’d hoped.

However, whether it is praise or criticism, the NEC always takes into consideration the views of others and we review the challenges and advantages of how we’re doing things so that we can continue to improve at our job of running Cambodia’s elections.

The NEC went into detail at the conference in Preah Sihanouk province regarding the challenges we encountered in the last election that we will need to find resolutions to. At that review meeting, we presented five topics for discussion and we looked for the strong points and the weak points related to the NEC’s performance running the election.

Through these conferences, the NEC does find some issues and many of them we’ve already fixed well in advance of the national election, while others we continue to work on now, but I’m confident that we’ll overcome these challenges as we have in the past.

What are the NEC’s requests to stakeholders in the coming election?

The NEC always encourages the participation of stakeholders, but they must respect and comply with Cambodian laws and with the ethical norms that allow a multi-party democracy to function.

Therefore, the NEC urges all stakeholders to fulfil their duties respectfully and to comply with the law, especially the code of conduct for the election.

On the other hand, if the stakeholders have any problems, we can discuss those with them through the mechanisms of the commune election commissions, capital and provincial election commissions, and in direct meetings with them, which the NEC regularly organises at all stages of the election preparations. We’re here to help the election run smoothly and fairly for everyone involved.