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True Election Reform Remains Elusive, Analysts Say

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, shakes hands with opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, right, after a meeting, as Sar Kheng, center, deputy prime minister, looks on at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Cambodian analysts say that even though the ruling party and opposition have agreed on some points of election reform, much more needs to be done before they find common ground.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party says it lost an election last year to irregularities and fraud and has called for an overhaul of the system, including the National Election Committee, widely seen as biased toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

And as negotiations continue, analysts say true reform remains elusive.

For example, the CPP wants the National Election Committee to remain an administrative institution, governed by appointees, rather than a constitutional body, approved by parliament, as the Rescue Party wants, said Hang Puthea, head of the election watchdog Nicfec. “That’s a difference that is not agreeable,” he said.

Most important to election observers, he said, is that the NEC remain neutral, no matter how it is constructed. “That’s a key positive point for preparation for upcoming elections,” he said.

In a statement this week, the CPP said it was dissatisfied with the negotiations. Both sides reached 14 points of agreements in three meetings this month that will be submitted to a national workshop for comment. But while those agreements do make some changes, such as voter registration and the neutrality of public servants, critics say the changes are not enough.

Koul Panha, who oversees the election monitor Comfrel, said both parties want changes, but they don’t understand each other. “They have different ideas over reform,” he said.

The CPP may want to change the NEC so that it is comprised of members from each party, he said. “But they don’t think, ‘How can we make deep reform?’”

Meanwhile, the Rescue Party wants to reform the way in which NEC members are selected, a position not agreed upon by the CPP.

And both sides are receiving pressure from supporters that wants to see change, but not a total overhaul, he said.

“That’s why they are all being cautious,” he said. “They have not had an attitude change in line with the new situation. That’s an issue that has not allowed negotiations to move forward. I think it may take time.”