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Opposition To Hold Demonstrations Over Election Reform

Last month, the US-based National Democratic Institute released an audit of voter registration, only about 64 percent of those surveyed lived where they were registered.
PHNOM PENH - The Cambodia National Rescue Party says it will hold a demonstration this week to demand election reforms by the National Election Committee ahead of polls in July.

Opposition leaders say they expect some 4,000 people to take part in non-violent protests on Wednesday, for election reforms that include a review of voter registration they say is skewed in favor of the ruling party.

That includes reform recommendations made last year by the UN’s special rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, including the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy for the elections.

“We want a fair election, and justice,” opposition spokesman Yim Sovann told VOA Khmer. Yim Sovann said an estimated 1.5 million names are not on the voter registry that ought to be.

Election monitors say Cambodia risks illegitimate elections if the reforms are not put in place.

Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the opposition is right to demonstrate for improved regulations. A consensus ahead of the election would prevent protests against the election results, he said.

“If people don’t really trust the results of the upcoming election, some might get angry,” he said. “And there is the possibility of demonstrations.”

However, the NEC has so far not been willing to accept such recommendations, he said.

Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the NEC needs to accept outside recommendations to allay the perception it is biased toward the ruling party.

“The position of the NEC in its responses to the opposition party and NGOs has been like it is showing an orientation to the ruling party,” he said.

The NEC has come under increased public scrutiny for its positions on the elections.

Last month, the US-based National Democratic Institute released an audit of voter registration. Only about 64 percent of those surveyed lived where they were registered, NDI found. About 10 percent of the names on the list belonged to people who could not be found to exist. Another 11 percent who thought they had registered were not listed.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha told VOA Khmer the government election body has done what it can to accept recommendations from outside groups and the opposition. “Some recommendations, they weren’t legal, so we couldn’t accept them,” he said.

But not everyone agrees. Representatives from election monitoring groups and other NGOs say the NEC has not been willing to change and that it’s policies help the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Laura Thornton, NDI’s Cambodia representative, said the NEC had not implemented any of the group’s recommendations, and had instead sought to invalidate the findings of its survey.

Hang Puthea, president of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said civil society groups have not seen the implementation of reforms they suggested to the NEC.