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Opposition Cites Election Law as Top Hurdle

The newly appointed secretary-general of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party says she will face many challenges to expand its influence. The top challenge, though, continues to be the National Election Committee, said Ke Sovannaroth.

An imbalanced election law leads to discrimination against opposition supporters, messy voter lists, biased election officers and media broadcasts, and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to lure party supporters with government positions, she said.

The Sam Rainsy Party expanded its seats in the National Assembly by only two after July’s election, but Ke Sovannaroth said this was not an accurate representation of the people’s will. The party remains popular, she said, despite a series of high-level “defections” of opposition supporters to the CPP.

“In fact, we have loyal members, activists,” she said. The small gains “came from the electoral law and its implementation, which saw major bias toward the ruling party.”

Despite the relative poverty of many SRP supporters, she said supporter abandonment was a minor obstacle compared to those put up by the election law.

Without enough seats to change the law, Ke Sovannaroth said it would be up to Cambodia’s donors to push the country towards “real democracy.”

“They have to have the electoral law and its regularities amended,” she said. “We will push for donors to review their aid, which was used to mobilize cabinet leadership.”

The government had now become, she said, “bigger and bigger, but not effective.”

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha denied bias in the government agency: “No election observer made such a claim with clear evidence.”

CPP lawmaker said Cambodia remained a multi-party democracy. There are no such things as truly impartial people, so any committee would have political supporters, he said.

“Can we get neutral, impartial individuals?” he asked. “We can, by having individuals abide rightfully by law.”

Hang Puthea, president of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said an amended election law would likely not happen.

“Because most of the lawmakers are from the ruling party, I think there would not be any effective amendments to the law,” he said.

Koul Panha, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said opposition parties would have to work together and amend the law eventually.

“The environment has created some obstacles,” he said, “so they should prepare strategies to work in this environment.”