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Cambodia Settles on Neutral Member of Election Committee

FILE - Human rights activist Pung Chhiv Kek (left), a prominent figure in Cambodia and founder of the rights group Licadho, and Hang Puthea (right), executive director of the election monitoring group Nicfec, at VOA Khmer in Phnom Penh. (Lim Sothy/VOA Khmer)

Cambodia's opposition says it has decided to back Prime Minister Hun Sen's preferred neutral candidate for the National Election Committee.

Sam Rainsy, leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, Thursday said it is easy for him to support Hang Puthea, who runs an independent election monitoring organization.

"Hang Puthea has been working with Pung Chhiv Kek for 17 years. They are both like one person. He must have the same position, loyalty, and decisiveness. Therefore, to get Hang Puthea is also a satisfaction if we cannot have Pung Chhiv Kek," said Sam Rainsy.

Pung Chhiv Kek, the first candidate for the position, said this week that she would not take the position because it will be "impossible" to maintain the NEC's political independence.

The opposition responded by saying it wanted to consider three other candidates. But Hun Sen said he would only agree on Heng Puthea.

Civil society groups have reacted positively so far. Koul Panha, executive director of the Comittee for Free and Fair Elections said Hang Puthea has a long history of advocating for election reform.

"We will work with him to ensure that some provisions that are not good in the election law cannot be manipulated to restrict freedom. We hope that he will continue his working style like in the civil society, too," Koul Panha said.

A new election reform law calls for the NEC to be made up of nine members, with each of the eight major parties selecting four members and the ninth being someone that both sides can agree upon.

The parliament will meet later this month to approve the slate of candidates for the NEC.