What Next for the New NEC?

12 April 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – A new National Election Committee (NEC) was formed and approved by the National Assembly last Friday in an attempt to build a credible, transparent and independent NEC after the most controversial elections in July 2013. It is a milestone in Cambodia’s electoral reform.
The negotiation on electoral reform between the Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP) and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) began at the political reconciliation and agreement between the two parties on 22 July 2014 and lasted for eight months.
The negotiation was a long but fruitful process. It not only paved the way for institutional reforms, but it also served as a confidence and trust building measure for both parties to work together. The culture of dialogue between the two political parties has come a long way within a short time frame and is finally starting to produce some fruitful results.
Expectations of the new NEC are considerably high but with cautious optimism. Some civil society groups in the Kingdom have raised their concerns and doubts with regard to the independence, neutrality, and inclusiveness of this new electoral body.
Firm Political Commitment
“From now on, the NEC members are no longer members of political parties,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen. “The new election body is very important to promote trust in the elections.”
In response, Sam Rainsy, the minority leader in the National Assembly, stated “I congratulate the National Assembly for choosing new NEC members, and from now on people will trust the NEC and the future elections will not have problems like previous elections.”
However, actions speak louder than words. Outcomes determine the process. The Cambodian people and international community are following closely the institutional development and functions of the new NEC and the preparation for the upcoming elections.
Currently, the core issue is how the new NEC should move from here. Experiences from the past have shown that political interference, lack of transparency and accountability, and weak election dispute settlement mechanism are the main issues and challenges of the old NEC.
Therefore the new NEC has to develop an innovative way to strengthen its institutional capacity and leadership to overcome those issues and challenges. The nine members must work together as a team, serving the best interests of Cambodian people not the political parties.
Capacity building and professional development for the new NEC staff are crucial. The new NEC should also develop its in-house research and training capacity related to election laws and regulations, voter empowerment, electoral reform, election monitoring, election organization, election disputes settlement, and conflict resolution.
Multi-Partnership Building
The new NEC must build a strong partnership with both the local and international civil society groups working on elections. The international donor community should take this opportunity to provide more electoral support to the new NEC.
So far Japan has shown commitment to improve and systemize the voter registration. Japan will send voter registration experts once the new NEC is formed. The European Union is also interested in expanding its electoral support to the Kingdom.
“The EU stands ready to bring assistance to Cambodia to ensure that future elections are transparent, inclusive and credible,” said in the statement of the EU commission to Cambodia after the new NEC was created.
A Means To Build Legitimacy  
Elections are the indispensable links between the state or government and society or people. Free, fair, and inclusive elections are the foundations of representative democracy.
With strong and credible electoral system, post-election political deadlock and crisis can be prevented.
“Building democracy is a complex process. Elections are only a starting point but if their integrity is compromised, so is the legitimacy of democracy,” stated Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations.

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