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New NEC members insist they are neutral

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Former Funcinpec member Nuth Sokhom (right), former deputy director of the government's human rights council Dim Sovannarom (centre) and Cambodian Nationality Party member Hel Sarat greet lawmakers at the National Assembly session where they were confirmed appointees to the National Election Commission, replacing three CNRP-nominated members who resigned in protest of the party’s dissolution. Photo supplied

New NEC members insist they are neutral

The last formal reshuffling of power following the opposition party’s dissolution was completed yesterday, as three National Election Committee members were confirmed into office and 11 additional CPP lawmakers were sworn in to the National Assembly.

Nuth Sokhom, former Funcinpec lawmaker; Hel Sarat, formerly of the Cambodian Nationality Party; and Dim Sovannarom, former deputy director of the government’s human rights body, were all confirmed to the NEC, replacing three CNRP-nominated members who resigned in protest of the party’s dissolution in November.

With the addition of Sovannarom, who according to a former colleague ran a CPP election campaign in Takeo province in 2013, five of the nine NEC members now have strong ties to the ruling CPP. The nine-member body is supposed to be made up of four nominees from the ruling party and four from the opposition, with one “neutral” representative from civil society.

In interviews outside of the National Assembly yesterday, all three members defended the new makeup of the NEC. When asked if the body could still be considered neutral after the resignation of CNRP-nominated members, Sokhom responded cryptically.

“Do you know the word ‘struggle’? Struggle means difficulty and sacrifices in life. I will follow my conscience,” he said. “I will do my best to serve,” he added, when pressed further, before walking away from reporters.

Meanwhile, Sovannarom, whose position on the Cambodian Human Rights Committee was equal to secretary of state, maintained he was neutral. “Everyone has a right to expression . . . But the truth is the truth. The important thing is that I think that everything has operated and proceeded correctly,” he said.

A monitor shows a session of the National Assembly in progress yesterday in Phnom Penh
A monitor shows a session of the National Assembly in progress yesterday in Phnom Penh. Sahiba Chawdhary

Sam Kuntheamy, director of election watchdog Nicfec, said the government appeared to have circumvented normal procedures in order to put another CPP-linked member on the committee.

Sovannarom was not nominated by a party and instead applied for the position on his own. In a speech on November 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested one of the three NEC members should come from civil society, adding the proposal was “just my idea”.

NEC member Hang Puthea remains the neutral civil society member.

“In the original agreement between the CNRP and CPP, there is supposed to be only one from an NGO . . . It seems like the government nominated [Sovannarom],” Kuntheamy said.

Political analyst Meas Nee said the current political situation shows that the NEC has already failed to be independent.

“An independent NEC does not only matter the day they begin to vote . . . The NEC has to be in charge of the whole process of the election,” Nee said, explaining that as a “national mechanism” the NEC has failed to ensure a democratic election field.

Also yesterday, the National Assembly approved 16 new lawmakers, 15 from the ruling CPP and one from Funcinpec replacing new NEC member Sokhom.

Eleven of the CPP members took seats formerly held by the CNRP, which were refused by the League for Democracy Party and Khmer Anti-Poverty Party. The rest replaced ruling party lawmakers who resigned to contest the upcoming Senate election.

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