NEC and Interior Ministry Officials Visit France Before July Election

NEC Chairman Prach Chan will lead both delegations. Photo: NEC

PHNOM PENH – A Joint delegation comprising members of the National Election Committee (NEC) and officials of the Interior Ministry is set to leave this evening for France for a one-week visit aimed at sharing experiences and good practices for the upcoming national election in July.

The visit is set from March 13 to 19 and will scrutinize the electoral system in France.

NEC Chairman Prach Chan will lead both delegations. Neither the detailed activities nor the exact number of people in the delegations are known.

NEC Spokesperson Hang Puthea said the visit was proposed during the meeting between Interior Minister Sar Kheng and French Ambassador to Cambodia Jacques Pellet in November 2022. The ambassador showed interest in assisting Cambodia’s national election work through the organization of a visit and experience sharing.

On March 6, Sophie Hatt, director of the department of International Security Cooperation, under the French Ministry of Interior, invited Cambodia to visit France.

“The NEC of Cambodia will experiment and look at the general experience of election preparation in France,” Puthea said. “The Cambodian delegations will bring home the experience and good points that Cambodia should follow.”

Back home, the nine members of the NEC will discuss and take into account the experiences and recommendations provided by their French counterparts, and whether they can be implemented in accordance with Cambodian law, he added.

Asked whether Cambodia is expecting financial support from France to conduct the election, Puthea said France has not shown any stance on financial provisions for Cambodia.

“In short, there are no promises regarding the budget yet,” he said.

He added that so far, only equipment and technical assistance have been provided by Japan and Europe. But they are the remainder from the last communal election in June 2022.

Last December, Cambodia invited the EU to send observers to monitor the 2023 election after no observers from the group of European states were deployed for the 2022 commune elections and the assistance has been cut off since 2017, after the dissolution of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the main opposition party at that time.

Sam Kuntheami, executive director of NECFEC, a civil society organization monitoring elections, said the meeting in France will benefit Cambodia for the upcoming election.

“This is a positive sign for Cambodia to learn and to ensure that the election process is conducted smoothly and fairly,” he said.

He expects that the NEC would take back useful recommendations to improve the election process to provide the kind of elections the Cambodian people desire.

However, Kuntheami recalled that with the closure of the independent media Voice of Democracy and the sentencing of former opposition leader Kem Sokha to 27 years in prison, the election process might be bumpy.

For the election to be free and fair, it depends on whether the political environment and the citizen’s rights are fully ensured, he explained.

“We hope that from now until the day of the election, the political environment, the political rights of the political parties, and the people will be wide open so that the citizens can choose their favorite political party according to the policy of some parties,” said Kuntheami.

The Cambodian People’s Party won a landslide victory in Cambodia's 6th National Assembly election in 2018, taking all 125 seats. However, the international community did not consider the election to be free, fair, or just as the CNRP, the sole real opposition party, had been dissolved a few months before the ballot.

Four months ahead of the July 23 general election, Cambodia’s political context remains tense.

One of the Candlelight Party (CP) vice presidents, Thach Setha, has been jailed in January for allegedly issuing a bad check, while Son Chhay, another CP vice president, was definitely convicted by the Supreme Court on Feb. 23.

He lost his final appeal after losing defamation cases brought by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the NEC. He was ordered to pay four billion riel (about $1 million) in damages to the CPP, and 10 million riel (around $2,500) to the NEC.

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