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Contentious Election Reform Laws Pass Assembly

National Assembly of Cambodia
National Assembly of Cambodia

The National Assembly on Thursday passed two election reform laws with little debate, despite widespread dissatisfaction with them from pro-democracy and rights groups.

The laws—the product of months of negotiations between the ruling party and opposition—will guide the establishment of a National Election Committee and rules for elections, including campaigning and voting.

All 103 lawmakers present from the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party voted for the laws, with no discussion or debate.

Bin Chhin, head of the CPP’s working group on the laws, said later that they will help organize the NEC conduct elections “with efficiency and transparency.”

Critics say they actually create impediments to free speech and assembly, among other weaknesses, especially during campaign periods. But supporters say the laws are the product of compromise and negotiations.

Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy told reporters Thursday the laws were the best that could be done “in such a political situation.”

“They can be changed in the future,” he said.

Following the passage of the laws, opposition party officials say they hope they can begin discussions for the political release of one of their jailed activists.

Meach Sovannara, who was jailed after violent protests in July, was charged with inciting violence, after demonstrators turned on city security personnel, a charge he has strongly denied.

His supporters say he was jailed to provide political leverage to the ruling CPP during political negotiations with the Rescue Party that followed the demonstrations.