The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
In his closing address at a two-day National Election Committee (NEC) conference in Preah Sihanouk province on Sunday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng told the opposition CNRP to end its boycott of the National Assembly, but emphasized that neither an independent investigation into July’s disputed election nor a reshuffling of the NEC would be forthcoming.
The CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers are boycotting the National Assembly as they continue to insist on an independent investigation and reform of the NEC as preconditions to taking their seats, leaving the CPP’s 68 lawmakers to sit alone in government.
The CNRP’s election complaints had already been dealt with “within a very reasonable timeframe” of 60 days in accordance with the electoral law, and the NEC’s investigation into voting irregularities had revealed nothing more sinister than technical glitches, Mr. Kheng told the assembled gathering of lawmakers, NEC officials and NGO representatives.
“From international experience there has never been a perfect election [and] every country encounters some technical shortcomings, [but] technical shortcomings and serious election irregularities are not the same thing,” Mr. Kheng said.
Mr. Kheng also said that the opposition party’s decision to boycott parliament left the government with no choice but to govern alone for the sake of stability.
“It is regrettable that elected candidates of [the] CNRP boycotted the first sitting of the National Assembly…[which] has elected parliamentarians from two political parties as expressed by the will of the people,” he said.
Mr. Kheng also invited the CNRP to engage in further negotiations.
“The CNRP has set conditions to request members of the NEC to resign from their positions to pave the way for electoral reform in the future,” he said, adding that such a request violates the election law as only the National Assembly can expel NEC members.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said that the goal of the conference was to review the strengths and weaknesses of the NEC’s election and post-election performance. However, he said that the CNRP’s demand for resignations would not be met.
“We have never closed the door to recommendations, but [the CNRP] can’t order an institution formed by the law to do whatever they want,” he said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the opposition was not asking that the National Assembly get rid of NEC members, but simply that members take responsibility for their election failures by resigning of their own volition.
“Anywhere in the world, if people in these positions of authority make serious mistakes they will resign,” he said, adding that the CNRP had been invited to the conference but had stayed away.
“This is a failed institution. They have proved they can’t do their job and the composition [of the NEC] must be reformed at all costs,” he said.
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