Cambodia’s official election body has rejected criticism over its neutrality after it reallocated the parliamentary seats of the country’s main opposition, which was disbanded by a court order last month.
Following the court decision, three of the National Election Committee’s members, Kouy Bunreoun, Rong Chhun and Te Manirong, resigned in protest. They had all joined the NEC as part of an agreement between Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the now-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party to end a political stalemate following the 2013 election.
Three new NEC candidates were approved on Tuesday to replace the three who resigned: Nuth Sokhom, a Funcinpec party member, Dim Sovannarom, head of public affairs at the Khmer Rouge tribunal and Hel Sarath of the Cambodian Nationality Party (CNP). Both Funcinpec and the CNP assumed seats vacated by the CNRP after the court decision last month.
The NEC, however, in a statement on Saturday said it took a “solid stance on law and justice” and was not subject to outside interference. Despite this claim, it went on to repeat dubious government assertions that Cambodia was the subject of a plot to engineer a “color revolution” to overthrow Hun Sen.
“To understand color revolutions is not difficult,” the statement read. “We will obtain enough information regarding those who are the masterminds, theorists, as well as through means to implement color revolution. Then we will see whether what happened recently in Cambodia was similar to those events or not.”
Yoeung Sotheara, a legal officer with local election watchdog Comfrel, said the appointment of three government-friendly members to the NEC was a cause for concern. “If we talk about the balance of power, it seems to be gone in parliament, and it will be no different in the NEC.”
Chhun, one of the NEC resignees, said that unless the decision to ban the CNRP was reversed, the election would not be recognized internationally as being free and fair. “That doesn’t represent the will of the people,” he said.
Hang Puthea, NEC spokesman, could not be reached for comment, and Tep Nytha, NEC secretary, declined to comment on the developments.
The CNRP leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested in September and charged with allegedly conspiring with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen, charges he denies.
On Monday, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a regional grouping of MPs, issued a statement calling for his release.
“Kem Sokha’s detention is clearly politically motivated, and the government has presented no credible evidence of the absurd charges levied against him. His arrest came in the midst of a heavy-handed crackdown on free media and civil society, and, combined with the subsequent dissolution of his party, represents nothing more than an attempt by the ruling party to eliminate all opposition before next years’ national elections,” the statement reads.
Hun Sen over the weekend led prayers for harmony at a religious ceremony in the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat.
Phay Siphan, government spokesman, blamed criticism of the government’s actions on opposition lobbying and said the decision to ban the CNRP and charge Sokha was a legal decision outside of political interference.
Speaking to supporters in the United States on Sunday, former CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhai Eang said: “The stance of the CNRP is to not acknowledge the verdict or ruling of the Supreme Court and the structure of our party remains the same. Lawmakers and commune councilors are still the legitimate representatives of the people” he said.