Slow Start for Joint Electoral Reform Commission

Slow Start for Joint Electoral Reform Commission
BY  AND  | MARCH 4, 2014

The ruling CPP agreed in principle to two of seven proposals put forth by the opposition CNRP on Monday during the first meeting of a joint electoral reform commission.

Emerging from a four-and-a-half hour meeting at the Senate, leaders of the CPP and CNRP working groups told reporters that they had agreed on the need to reform voter registration and create a new law on political financing.

A joint statement released following the meeting says the parties agreed to “organize voter registration and voter lists to guarantee and to protect people’s right to vote” and “organize the creation of a law on financing of political parties.”

The six-member delegations from each party agreed to continue electoral reform talks next Monday.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, who headed the opposition delegation, said the CPP declined to discuss five additional reform proposals until they had a chance to speak with senior CPP leadership.

Those points included reforming the composition of the National Election Committee and its local bodies, giving parties equal access to broadcast media, the creation of an independent body to settle electoral disputes, and measures to ensure the political independence of the military and civil service.

“They said [these points] have not been discussed among their leaders, so they asked to look into this for next time around,” Mr. Chhay said, adding that specifics of the reforms would be dealt with in later stages of the reform process.

“The idea is that we have to agree on the major reforms, then we will open ourselves to NGOs, experts and international organizations to provide recommendations or suggestions,” he said.

Mr. Chhay said that the parties had agreed that discussion of an early election should be left to talks between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who have not met since September.

Bin Chhin, a CPP deputy prime minister who headed the ruling party delegation, told reporters that the parties would continue to discuss the electoral restructuring proposals that were not agreed upon Monday, and predicted that the parties would agree on further reforms.

“We will place more issues [into the electoral reform framework] and we will continue to discuss,” Mr. Chhin said. “These reforms ultimately will be passed in the National Assembly.”

The CNRP has refused to take its 55 seats in the National Assembly, demanding that the CPP agree to either a mid-term election or an investigation into July’s ballot, which they say was beset with irregularities that benefitted the ruling party.

In January, the CPP announced that it would create a one-party electoral reform commission headed by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, but in February altered its plans and agreed to form a joint commission with the CNRP.

Although Mr. Hun Sen and his deputies have repeatedly said that the CPP government and its one-party National Assembly are unaffected by the CNRP’s ongoing boycott, independent analyst Chea Vannath said Monday that the CPP’s participation in electoral reform talks was strictly a matter of legitimacy.

“This is about achieving legitimacy [for the CPP government], about showing the international community that they are a well-established multi-party democracy,” Ms. Vannath said.

“But unless…the government changes their mindset about elections, it will be the same thing again next election [and] this committee won’t matter.”

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