WASHINGTON DC - Cambodia has made no significant reforms to improve its electoral system, jeopardizing the legitimacy of elections set for July, a prominent election watchdog says.
In a major report ahead of this years parliamentary elections, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections said there had been no meaningful changes to a system that favors that ruling party and makes it hard for representative democracy to widen.
The government has also failed to ensure freedoms of expression and information, damaging the legitimacy of the electoral process, the group said in a statement. “No substantial progress has been made in terms of improvements of the substantive quality of the democratization process.”
“The report suggests that policy-making should be strengthened and opposition parties should have more involvement in the process,” Comfrel said. “The current development of the multi-party system towards a one-party system should be addressed immediately and reforms made to strengthen the party system through public finance and training of political parties and legal changes made to allow independent candidates to run for elections.”
Koul Panha, Comfrel’s executive director, said in a statement that Cambodia’s political system is in “an increasingly fragile state of democracy,” following backslides in 2012.
“If the situation keeps going like this, that means [Cambodian] democracy is seen as not mature and political conflict will continue, as other opposition [members] do not accept the preparation,” he told VOA Khmer.
However, ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yiep told VOA Khmer that the Cambodian People’s Party has followed the law for this election and previous elections, calling the Comfrel report speculative, especially more than four months away from the election. “We remain optimistic that the process will function properly as [the National Election Committee] prepares,” he said.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha told VOA Khmer the election body had taken about half the recommendations from opposition groups and civil society in preparing for the July polls. The changes that we’re made were due to legal strictures, he said.
Critics say the NEC is biased toward the ruling party and has instituted policies that make it hard for the poor and uneducated—the grassroots base for the opposition—to vote. They say voter registration is made difficult and that local officials of the ruling party are left to count votes.
Meanwhile, the US and other international donors have said they want to see more reforms and for opposition leader Sam Rainsy to be allowed to participate in the process.
“If no improvements are made in relation to election reform, the political situation will continue to worsen and have a high impact of political risk with less legitimacy in the 2013 national election process and less legitimacy of the result,” Koul Panha said.