PHNOM PENH & WASHINGTON - Opposition supporters say they will continue to protest the make-up of the National Election Committee, which they maintain is biased toward the ruling party.
The NEC’s board was approved by the National Assembly on Thursday, despite a boycott by the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties, who say they committee is stacked with supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
That move has galvanized a wave of opposition to the election body, as opposition leaders inside and outside the country work to have it reformed.
Soung Sophorn, head of the Sam Rainsy Party’s youth division, told “Hello VOA” Thursday he would continue to lead protests against the NEC until it is changed.
“They do not intend to change it, because the CPP won due to the bias of the NEC,” he said. “I would like to state clearly that our youth will demonstrate today, this month, next month, through next year, and continue until there is change.”
The NEC’s nine members are responsible for a flawed system, he said. They have lost names from voter registries, made it hard for many to register and have allowed local authorities to control outcomes that do not ensure free and fair elections, he said. The NEC should be agreed on by all parties, he added.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the opposition was playing a “trick to destroy the democratic process,” by protesting against the NEC.
Still, local and international observers, including the UN’s special human rights envoy, Surya Subedi, have said the system needs changed.
Outside the country, the opposition has increased its calls for improved elections.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua, who was in Washington this week, said she is lobbying the administration of US President Barack Obama to pressure Cambodia for reforms. Obama is scheduled to attend a summit of Asean and world leaders in Phnom Penh next month.
Both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are likely to put pressure on the government during the visit, she told VOA Khmer in a studio interview. “They are both champions of democracy, and our petition shows clear signs that our democracy is in danger.”
The NEC needs to be staffed with non-politically aligned members with an independent budget, she said.
Cambodia is heading toward national parliamentary elections in July 2013. Those are so far set to take place without opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who remains in exile abroad, facing prison sentences from charges he says are politically motivated. They will also take place under the newly approved NEC.
NEC officials said Friday that some 833,000 new voters have registered so far. Im Sousdey, NEC chairman, said they have received no complaints about the registration process so far.
However, Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said he had not filed complaints because he did not think the NEC would take them seriously. But there have been some irregularities, including civil servants registered at two different places at once, to bolster support for the ruling party where it is traditionally weaker, such as in the capital, he said.
Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said his monitors had discovered that commune officials were not keeping regular hours during registration and had confiscated identification from villagers without handing them back, a violation of regulations.