CPP, CNRP Election Reform Talks Flounder
The bipartisan Election Reform Commission, which has met twice since its creation last month and produced few results, appears to now have broken down entirely, with the ruling CPP saying it will refuse to even consider a provision that the opposition says is fundamental for any further meetings.
The two parties on Tuesday hunkered down in their positions over a proposal that the CNRP raised to require two-thirds of the country’s lawmakers to appoint new members to the National Election Committee (NEC) as a way to ensure the political neutrality of the much-criticized body.
The issue led to the parties failing to produce a joint statement after Monday’s meeting.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy also said Monday that CNRP members would not attend next Monday’s commission meeting if the proposal for a neutral NEC was not accepted, describing it as “fundamental” to electoral reform and a test of the CPP’s seriousness.
In a statement received Tuesday, the CPP said it could not agree to such a proposal, which would end its tight control over the composition of the NEC.
“The Cambodian People’s Party regrets that the Cambodia National Rescue Party keeps using this as a condition, which may cause a stall in the reform of future elections,” the statement says.
Sik Bunhok, one of the CPP’s six delegates on the commission, said that the ruling party could not reasonably be expected to accept the proposal.
“We are willing to undertake electoral reform but the proposal raised by the CNRP to have two-thirds majority of the National Assembly to appoint members to the NEC will cause a lot of problems,” he said.
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Dual Citizens May Be Banned From Prime Minister Role
Emerging from a meeting on electoral reform Monday, senior ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said that the government is considering modifying Cambodia’s nationality law to ban those with dual citizenship from running for the office of prime minister.
Mr. Yeap, who represented the CPP at the second meeting of the new joint-party Electoral Reform Committee on Monday, explained that the change, which he said would help prevent treason, would not be introduced immediately but was one of the government’s long-term plans.
“We want the prime minister to have only a single nationality, and not two nationalities,” Mr. Yeap told reporters after the meeting.
“For example, if someone has two nationalities—one French and one Khmer—when the Khmer have a dispute with the French, which side will that prime minister take?” Mr. Yeap asked.
“This will take a long time and will be in the nationality law.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lived in Paris until 1993 after his family was exiled under then-Prince Sihanouk in 1965, holds dual French and Cambodian citizenship. The CNRP president has twice fled to France to avoid criminal convictions—most recently between 2009 and 2013—in a case brought against him by the government.
Mr. Rainsy said by telephone Monday that he would be prepared to renounce his French citizenship if the ruling CPP introduced such a measure.
“Of course I would give up my French citizenship,” he said. “I would give up my life for this country, this is only a minor problem.”
Mr. Rainsy said he no longer needed France as a “safe place” to flee what he termed intimidation and violence from the ruling CPP.
“This has been a strength,” Mr. Rainsy said. “But now my strength is the support of the Cambodian people. With this strength, and with the overwhelming and growing support of the Cambodian people, I am invincible. I do not need anything else.”
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Reform Efforts Should Include Vote for Cambodians Abroad
(Reviewed by Colin Meyn, Cambodia Daily, Published on 10 March 2014)
Now that the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP have begun discussions on post-election reforms, (“Slow Start for Joint Electoral Reform Commission,” March 4) it must be noted that the Cambodian diaspora has been pivotal to the development of modern Cambodia and, therefore, should be given a role in helping to bring about crucial change in the country. In countries such as India and the Philippines, nationals living abroad make huge contributions to the economy through remittances. For countries such as Israel and Armenia, their diaspora communities are catalysts for political change.
In Cambodia, expatriate Khmers have played an important role in revitalizing the nation. Cambodia’s diaspora was central in bringing about the Paris Peace Agreement, and today’s democratic movement is supported by donations and participation from Cambodians overseas. The powerful ruling Cambodian People’s Party often takes a confrontational position toward Khmers living overseas, which is a mistake, as so many of us want to invest in the country’s economy and people.
Cambodia’s government continues to rely heavily on foreign aid, it could benefit greatly by also engaging Cambodians living abroad as it seeks to become a globally competitive country. As part of its discussion over electoral reform, the CPP and CNRP should include on the agenda the right of Cambodians living around the world to vote in future national elections.
Commission for Election Right of Oversea Cambodians (CEROC)
University of Hawaii, Honolulu