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Three out of ten, and one out of three, a preferential candidate of the ninth member of NEC

The top 10 preferential candidates from civil society and academic that CNRP and the most public should be looking for to fulfil the ninth member of the reforming National Election Committee (NEC) who would be the Head of this important committee. However, very few of them are likely to gain approval from CPP given their works and experiences that most of the time criticise the government policy and implementation.

Anyway, let me pick up three among them who should probably be consensual by the two parties for seeking of political concessions, though it is hard to deselect any one of them because their popularity and reputation in Cambodian politics are publicly recognisable.

Based on my opinion but not on any research or study, I name the three of them in my preferential order: 1. Madam Pung Chhivkek (Licadho), 2. Mr Koul Panha (Comfrel), and 3. Dr Lao Mong Hay (Political Analyst). My choice is dependent upon their relationships with the two parties, their works and experiences relevant to the field of elections and politics, and their reconciliatory skills as needed compulsorily in the present Cambodian political environment, which may be able to satisfy all sides.

Do you want to know about their credibility that could be my reasons to support them in such an order?

While selecting these three prominent figures, it is hard to exclude the rest of them since they are almost equally popular among Cambodian public opinion. First, I thought of the possibility that all sides would likely accept either one of the three. Secondly, I was not sure they preferred candidate from civil society or from any source. Thirdly, based on their specialization alone cannot fulfil the requirement in the current political environment, thus, in addition, one should possess reconciliation skills and has no history of deep political hostile towards any party. And fourthly, the acceptance of any of them must heavily rely on political concession between the two winning parties.

According to CPP MPs elected Chheang Vun, CPP would be working with CNRP fairly and faithfully. And Prak Sokhon, CPP negotiator, also expressed that there would be no difficulties in the question of the ninth candidate of NEC to be nominated. Hence, the two parties should have decided already who would be an acceptable candidate. However, before the negotiation which ended the yearlong political deadlock, Kem Sokha, Vice President of CNRP, revealed the formula of 3 candidates would be from each party and 3 from civil society, 9 in total. Hence, although in the agreement concluded did not mention from which source the 9th candidate would be drawn, it was most likely from civil society seemingly the concession for Kem Sokha demand from 3 to 1.

If the qualification is to be met only in one who possesses technical specialization in the field of ‘election’, I would definitely opt for Mr Koul Panha. As an executive director (since 1998) of Comfrel (Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia), he is entrusted with impressive knowledge and experiences of electoral processes. I personally met him recently during his trip to the conference to study post-election situations in India. Many see him as an independent observer, yet from CPP side, he is said to be in favour of the opposition party. Asked by the media, he is ready to serve this position, because he wants to make crucial reform of the election body. His recommendations have been always rejected by the government. He deserves this position, actually.

One of the oldest political analysts, Dr Lao Mong Hay, a man not afraid to speak his mind, is a repository of historical, political events of many regimes in Cambodia since Sangkum Reastra Niyum in the 1960s. His political analysis is impressive among listeners and readers, not to mention about his opinions on various issues quoted by the local and international press. Moreover, credibly, he participated in the peace process in Cambodia during the 1980s and a delegation of Son Sann-led KPNLF (Khmer People for National Liberation Front) one of the signatories of Paris Peace Concord, 23rd Oct 1991. I am not sure when he left Cambodia, but from overseas he was a brave critic of government political leadership over the years. Vocal fights between him and PM Hun Sen were often voiced over RFA, VOA and RFI. For that, it was hard for me to believe that he could have had a chance to return to Cambodia again; he was actually in the government’s blacklist.

If I am not wrong, around early 2012 he came back to Cambodia. He then had changed something in his attitude towards PM Hun Sen. He no longer called PM Hun Sen beginning with “Mr or Lok, i.e. Lok Hun Sen”, as this might not show full respect. For this, many Cambodian diasporas accused him of having been sold to the government of the ruling party. Nevertheless, to date, he remains a firm critic of government mal-performances. I can say from majority public opinion he is an independent political analyst, but the CPP views him as an anti-government activist. For CNRP, he is a satisfactory candidate. In comparison between Mr Koul Panha and Dr Lao Mong Hay, the latter expertise in politics in general, whereas the former in the election in particular.

Madam Pung Chhivkek’s first credibility is her role in political reconciliation during the Cambodian conflict in the 1980s. She was credited for her vital role in facilitating the meeting between Prince Norodom Sihanouk and then foreign minister Hun Sen for the talk on a political settlement. When a peaceful political settlement was reached in 1991, she established a human rights organization called Licadho in 1992 and remains operating till now. Perhaps, Licadho was the first human rights NGO to have been existing during the political transition in Cambodia, that has provided protection of civil, social, political and economic rights in Cambodia and promoted respect for them by the Cambodian government and institutions since its inception.

Madam Pung Chhivkek’s personality should be highly estimated. Her political expression is often softened and sweet which reflects her affection to political leaders irrespectively. However, she is also one of the critics of government human rights violations.

Her unique relations with PM Hun Sen is that she has not ever had any strong vocal fight with him. It seems to me that she has some respect from PM Hun Sen. I have never heard PM Hun Sen threatened her either directly or indirectly in the operation of Licadho in Cambodia over decades. The reason can be traced back to her crucial role in the political settlement in the 1980s.

In the light of this argument, I conclude that Madam Pung Chhivkek, for politically mutual understanding, should be a suitable candidate for the ninth member of the electoral body. No one else seems to satisfy both parties. Yet, asked to comment on the position, Madam Pung Chhiv Kek said “The ninth candidate will be very difficult to find, because this person must be completely neutral, without any affiliation or bias”, (The Phnom Penh Post).

I do hope that both parties have already agreed on the ninth candidate who should be nominated from civil society. If so, I assume that the priority of list should be Madam Pung Chheivkek.

According to RFA today evening, CNRP intended to decide the ninth candidature tomorrow (July 28).

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