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Sunday’s Polls a Test of National Election Committee’s Neutrality: Expert

A Cambodian military police officer, left, traffics during the election campaign in Phnom Penh.

Sunday’s polls will be a major test of the National Election Committee and its mandate for neutrality, a leading rights expert says.

“We have noticed that the NEC is not neutral,” said Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “Its performance is lagging behind. It’s biased toward the ruling party.”

Cambodians will vote for their local commune council leaders across the country on Sunday, choosing among 10 separate parties and amid allegations of election irregularities. Opposition leaders have said as many as 1 million people will not be able to vote, due to problems in the registration and local voting lists, which are overseen by the NEC.

The national election body has failed to address concerns raised by campaigning parties over the last two weeks, Ou Virak said, speaking to VOA Khmer over Skype. “This local election will be a reflection on how much the NEC has developed itself.”

The NEC often faces criticism of bias toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, but officials there say it is an impartial election body.

However, Ou Virak said some of its leaders are members of the ruling party, which damages its independence.

The NEC should be allowed independent recruitment, funding and other measures, he said.

“These are very much beneficial for political stability and maturing democracy in Cambodia,” he said. “If there is confidence in the electoral body, people will not resort to violence or any activity threatening stability.”