A former Cambodian provincial governor now named as a candidate for the country’s top election post is unfit for that office, critics say, pointing to his lack of experience in election work and accusations of corruption made against him.
Prach Chan, formerly a governor of central Cambodia’s Tbong Khmum province and now a member of the country’s parliament, the National Assembly, will be put forward by the Assembly on Thursday for approval as chairman of the National Election Committee (NEC), following a vote of support on June 22.
As a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Prach Chan is unlikely to be impartial and fair in his oversight of election affairs in the Southeast Asian country, though, a member of the now-banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) told RFA this week.
“The ruling party would naturally like to take over the NEC and put its own man in as arbitrator,” said former Kampong Cham provincial CNRP executive member and teacher Kong Sivong.
The National Assembly should provide more opportunities for the general public and experts in election work, Kong Sivong said.
“It’s clear that the NEC will be ordered to do whatever [the CPP] wishes, and won’t be able to provide justice for other political parties or for the country’s people,” Kong Sivong added, citing what he called Prath Chan’s history of political partisanship and ties to illegal logging.
National Assembly spokesperson Leng Peng Long dismissed the criticisms of Prath Chan, however, saying that the Permanent Committee of the CPP-controlled legislative body had voted “with confidence” for their candidate, who following final approval will take his oath of office at Cambodia’s Royal Palace following a decree by the King appointing him to the job.
“[Prath Chan] has done nothing wrong,” the Assembly spokesperson said. “According to the law, he has the ability to serve as chairman of the National Election Committee, and he has a good knack for management,” he said.
Speaking to RFA, environmental activists and land-rights petitioners pointed though to what they called Prath Chan’s unfair handling in parliament of land-dispute cases and complicity in the smuggling of timber to Vietnam when he was governor of Tbong Khmum.
“Right after he got his post as governor, we saw that political elites, military officers, and other powerful people had teamed up to run [an illegal] business in timber,” said environmental activist Seng Hok Seng, adding that Prath Chan had failed to use his authority and influence to stop the trade.
‘He ignored our problem’
And after becoming a member of parliament representing Tbong Khmum for the ruling CPP in 2018, Prath Chan broke promises he had made to resolve petitions by villagers forced from their land by powerful business interests, one community member said.
“He ignored our problem,” claimed village representative Phok Sophin, saying she no longer trusts the Human Rights Committee on which Prath Chan served.
“We submitted our complaint in the land dispute to his committee, and he said that he would forward the case to the Phnom Penh City Hall, but when we followed up they didn’t have any answers for us,” she said.
“They just passed the responsibility from one department to another.”
“The company we have the dispute with doesn’t care about us at all. We have been so frustrated during these last two years,” she said.
Even before the Cambodian Supreme Court’s dissolution of the opposition CNRP in 2017, the NEC had come under growing criticism for losing its independence, and is now seen as a tool of the ruling CPP for having taken CNRP seats from elected officials at the national and local level and giving them to the CPP.
Speaking to RFA, Sam Kuntheamy—executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections—said the process of selecting the NEC chairman is no longer transparent, adding, “We’re not sure if Prath Chan can work independently.”
We’ll all be watching together,” he said.
Attempts to reach Prath Chan for comment this week were unsuccessful.
Cambodia is slated to hold commune elections next year and parliamentary elections in 2023, but it is unclear if opposition parties will be allowed to run.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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