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Reforms Moving Forward, Despite Hurdles and Complaints

Cambodian Americans protest at the US White House for NEC reform, file photo.
Cambodian Americans protest at the US White House for NEC reform, file photo.

National Assembly officials say they plan to announce a new National Election Committee ahead of the Khmer New Year in April, as they prepare to debate two key contentious election laws.

Both moves are signs of progress in political reform talks that have taken place since July—but not everyone is happy with them. Nor do they signal smooth sailing ahead for the relationship between the ruling party and opposition.

A reformed NEC, which plans and oversees voting registration and elections, has been at the heart of political negotiations between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party since July, and pro-democracy groups say it is essential that it be independent and unbiased.

Each party will chose four members, with a ninth member to be agreed upon by both. A top candidate for that tie-breaking position is Pung Chhiv Kek, founder of the rights group Licadho. The announcement is expected March 27.

But the road toward reform has bumpy, and continues to be so.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday he is considering a lawsuit against Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha, accusing him of a “plot” the overthrow the government.

In a public address at a groundbreaking ceremony for a road on Tuesday, Hun Sen railed against Kem Sokha, saying he has confessed such plans in speeches to his US supporters.

It is unclear to what specific statements the prime minister was referring, but Kem Sokha is currently in the US to speak with supporters, some of whom have been disappointed by the concessions the opposition has made in its negotiations.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly is set to debate two draft laws on election reforms, which were also the result of negotiations.

But democracy and rights groups on Wednesday reiterated calls that certain provisions limiting be struck.

One such provision prohibits groups from taking part in political campaigns or rallies leading into an election, in what civil society leaders say is a clear blow to basic rights and freedoms.

Chhim Phal Vorun, a CPP spokesman, said such concerns do not represent “the will of the people.”