Monday, 1 June 2009

Monitors call for amendments to Election Law after council poll

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN \A commune councilor casts her vote in Phnom Penh during the May 17 provincial, district and municipal council election.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Monday, 01 June 2009

Observers say current laws blur line between party membership and service to the state.

CIVIL society groups urged the government to amend several articles of the Kingdom's 2008 Election Law, which currently allows political parties to remove elected officials if they resign or are expelled from their parties.

"In a strong democratic society, lawmakers and councilors must have the independent right to perform their job and take responsibility," Koul Panha, executive director of local election monitor Comfrel, said Sunday.

"I hope that the government, the lawmakers and politicians will consider amending the law in order to reduce conflicts during election periods."

Comfrel, along with the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), and fellow monitoring group Nicfec, issued a joint statement May 28 calling on the ruling Cambodian People's Party, Sam Rainsy Party, Norodom Ranariddh Party and Funcinpec to remove an article of the law stating that the loss of party membership can lead to termination from an elected position.

Under current rules, councilors and politicians are elected as representatives of their parties and cannot retain their position if they lose party membership.

CHRAC Chairman Sok Sam Oeun said certain articles of the law should be removed to allow elected officials - from the Senate and National Assembly down to the commune councils - to fulfill their duties for their full elected term.

With a few amendments, Sok Sam Oeun said, elected officers "would not be under threat of being removed from their position by their political party".

Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said political influence on state institutions and the public administration was still pervasive, owing to the fact that there is no clear division between duties in state institutions and membership in political parties.

"The removal of members of the Senate, members of parliament or commune councilors based on party membership is not a democratic principle," he said.


The statement also called for the strengthening of the articles outlawing vote-buying and the forced swearing of oaths by party members, as well as appealing for direct elections to the Senate and the provincial, district and municipal councils, elected for the first time on May 17. Both elections are currently only open to the Kingdom's 11,353 commune councilors.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party supported the immediate amendment of the law, which would pave the way for the true independence of the executive and legislative branches of government.

"I support the initiatives suggested by civil society appealing for an amendment of these laws," he said.

The suggestions came after at least nine SRP commune councilors were removed after it was claimed they accepted bribes to vote for the CPP during the May 17 council elections, with another 300 facing removal or suspension from their posts on similar suspicions.

Civil society groups also expressed concerns after it emerged that SRP councilors were required to swear loyalty oaths prior to the election.

The CPP won 2,551 of the total 3,235 seats at the poll, with the SRP receiving 579, Funcinpec 61 and the NRP just 44.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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