PHNOM PENH —
Cambodia's opposition said Thursday that it had decided to back Prime Minister Hun Sen's preferred neutral candidate for the National Election Committee.
Sam Rainsy, leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, said it was easy for him to support Hang Puthea, who runs an independent election monitoring organization.
“Hang Puthea has been working with Pung Chhiv Kek for 17 years. They are both like one person. ... Therefore, to get Hang Puthea is also a satisfaction if we cannot have Pung Chhiv Kek," Rainsy said.
Pung Chhiv Kek, the first candidate for the position, said this week that she would not take the position because it would be “impossible” to maintain the NEC’s political independence.
The opposition responded by saying it wanted to consider three other candidates. But Hun Sen said he would agree only on Heng Puthea.
Civil society groups have reacted positively so far. Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Hang Puthea has a long history of advocating for election reform.
"We will work with him to ensure that some provisions that are not good in the election law cannot be manipulated to restrict freedom," he said. "We hope that he will continue his working style like in the civil society, too."
A new election reform law calls for the National Election Committee to be made up of nine members, with each of the major parties selecting four members and the ninth being a neutral member.
The parliament will meet later this month to approve the slate of candidates for the NEC.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.