WASHINGTON DC - Ministry of Interior officials will meet with a delegation of opposition leaders this week to discuss complaints of political bias at the National Election Committee.
The NEC is supposed to be an independent government agency tasked with running elections, but opposition officials say it is biased toward the ruling party and have sought to reform it ahead of national elections in 2013. The Ministry of Interior prepares the candidate lists for NEC positions, then sends them to the Council of Ministers for approval.
Opposition officials had requested to meet with Interior Minister Sar Kheng to request a change of the NEC’s leadership and other election-related procedures. Two representatives each from the Human Rights and Sam Rainsy parties will in fact meet with Prum Sokha, a secretary of state for the ministry, on Thursday.
Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha told VOA Khmer he believes NEC officials should be selected with the consensus of the ruling and opposition parties. Provincial election officials should be chosen from a diversity of parties, as well, he said.
Kem Sokha said he wanted to meet with Cambodian government officials to solve the problems of the NEC so as not to appear to seek help only from “foreigners” in improving Cambodian elections. “Now we turn to speak with Khmer and Khmer,” he said. “If the Khmer do not understand and take mutual care, then the next time, don’t say we go to foreigners.”
Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, called the talks a “positive step.” The parties want a review of the NEC “because the NEC is not independent or neutral,” he said.
Top NEC officials have in the past denied the agency is politically biased. But opposition officials say the NEC is responsible for voting and election mechanisms that are overly complicated and lead to irregularities, fraud and missed voting opportunities by many of the rural poor who support the opposition.
Following a fact-finding trip to Cambodia earlier this year, the UN’s special human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, said Cambodia needs to reform its election processes. Government workers reportedly use state resources, such as vehicles, to campaign for the ruling party, he said in a recent report. And political parties continue to report harassment and intimidation.