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NEC Bias Questioned Ahead of Elections

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the second in a two-part series examining the National Election Committee's role.]

Political parties and observers say the National Election Committee was set up to be biased from the start. But even as they hear calls for reform, top committee officials say it is too late to change the committee ahead of upcoming general elections.

The NEC was created ahead of the first general elections, in 1998, with nine components, and in subsequent years has been made up of the three parties with parliamentary seats: five from the Cambodian People's Party, two from Funcinpec and two from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

The National Assembly must approve the members for each seat, after an NEC candidate renounces political affiliation, but critics say these members never truly surrender their political tendencies. As a result, they say, the NEC leans in favor of the ruling CPP.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said in a recent interview the CPP gained support from the majority of NEC members, including from its coalition partner Funcinpec.

"The CPP has five seats of support from its party, plus two from Funcinpec, so they have seven voices in the make-up of the NEC," he said. "But SRP has only two people, so what will the NEC decide? It's for the interest of the CPP."

Im Francois, an official at the Center for Social Development in charge of elections, said resolution of complaints is another problem the NEC faces.

Prince Sisowath Sereirath, vice president of Funcinpec, said that some complaints of Funcinpec have not been resolved at the NEC, even though Funcinpec has two members on the committee.

"Sometimes, they do not resolve our complaints, and our two members have pushed for reform and improvement of the NEC, but it is stuck," he said. "We are mostly worried about that."

For these reasons, some political parties claim reform of the NEC's structure is necessary if the committee hopes to be considered independent.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said a proposal can be made for consideration for the next legislature, but for now the body will do its job according to the law.

Parties can appeal to the Constitutional Council if they feel the NEC has not resolved their complaints or has been unjust, he said.

"The competing parties can mobilize their observers during the voting process, and NGOs can assist the observation," he added. "So if they find irregularities from staff of the NEC, they can file suit."

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith called the accusations of NEC bias "propaganda."

Still, after each election, there are protests and many complaints related to irregularities found by observers of each party, but some of them are rejected by the NEC as invalid.