The former head of the National Election Committee, which was to be reformed in the wake of widespread irregularities in 2013, has returned to his post.
Tep Nytha was reinstated to the NEC as secretary-general following lengthy discussions among nine appointed members of the committee at the Ministry of Interior on Friday.
Tep Nytha will be responsible for the administration and finance of the committee.
He was selected because of his past experience with election procedure, Siek Bunhok, the NEC chairman, said.
“Keeping the old person or selecting the new person is not that important for the NEC,” he said. “The important thing is whether the work system of the NEC is reliable or not.”
Ny Chakrya, head of the human rights and legal aid section at the rights group Adhoc, was appointed one of four deputy secretary-generals. He’ll be tasked with internal auditing. The other three deputies will oversee voter data and lists; legal services and disputes; and public relations.
Koul Panha, executive director of the election monitor Comfrel, said the decision was made without the participation of other stakeholders, including the political parties. It should have included thorough information gathering and interviewing, he said. Confidence in the election process is closely tied to perception, he said. “It’s about whether the person is seen as reliable.”
Siek Bunhok defended the appointments, quoting regulations for the functions of the NEC. The current iteration of the NEC came following lengthy negotiations in 2014, following major gains at the polls by the Cambodia National Rescue Party, despite widespread allegations of irregularities and fraud.
Rescue Party spokesman Yem Ponhearith said the decision to put Tep Nytha in the top post again was regrettable and frustrating. “The selection made this morning worries us, and the people will not be confident in the new NEC,” he said.
Tep Nytha’s past performance eroded trust in the election process, Yem Ponhearith said. However, the Rescue Party would not seek to interfere in the decisions of the NEC, he added.
Tep Nytha said Friday he was happy to be reappointed, and he dismissed the criticisms against him. “I think it’s perhaps the opinion of other people, because we can’t get 100 percent from what we do, and, being human, nobody loves us 100 percent.”
Past elections were evaluated as “transparent and good,” he said. “The problems occurred after the elections. To me, I think some of these problems are not technical issues, but they are due to rivalries between politicians.”