As the National Election Committee seeks to reform itself and the election process, election observers say it is failing at the provincial and local level. Critics say hundreds of NEC directors and deputies across the country could potentially fail to implement the policies of the national agency.
That’s because in the old system, ground-level leadership inside the NEC were members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Vestiges of that system remain, damaging the NEC’s independence, Kem Ley, a policy analyst, said. “This way, there was no such thing called ‘independence.’”
It remains to be seen if reforms in the NEC will move to the local level, as Cambodia heads toward local elections in 2017 and national elections the year after. The NEC has been reformed at the national level, following bitter political disputes between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, after the 2013 elections. Its new leadership was announced in January.
The previous NEC was weighted to the ruling party, with public officials unable to speak out when a supervisor made a mistake, Kem Ley said. That restricted transparency and work quality, he said.
Hang Puthea, a former election monitor and now spokesman for the NEC, said such criticisms are old and don’t speak to the new direction of the agency. Instead, they are part of “an old kind of mentality,” he said.
Yet critics still say the new NEC is subject to nepotism similar to the old version, despite a political agreement signed by the CPP and Rescue Party in 2014.
Hang Puthea, however, said the selection of officials for new NEC posts has not been subject to the kind of nepotism of the past. Still, he said, people tend to hire those they can trust and can work with, he said. “Everyone has the right to decide on their own,” he said.