Ruling Party Candidate for Cambodia’s Top Election Post Tied to Corruption

As a member of Cambodia's ruling CPP party, Prath Chan is unlikely to be impartial and fair in his oversight of elections, some observers say.

Ruling Party Candidate for Cambodia’s Top Election Post Tied to Corruption

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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Cambodian Political Prisoners’ Wives Fear for Husbands’ Health

Prison food lacks nutrition, and authorities should allow prisoners' families to visit, one rights group says.

Cambodian Political Prisoners’ Wives Fear for Husbands’ Health

The wives of two political prisoners held in Cambodian jails are fearing for their husbands’ health after seeing them in failing health during recent visits, the women said, blaming prison authorities for failing to provide the men with adequate food.

Tek Sok Lorn, the wife of jailed opposition activist Prov Chantheun, said she was shocked at her husband’s appearance when she saw him through a glass partition at the Mort Khmung prison in Tbong Khmum province.

Her husband was thin, pale, and exhausted, and looked sadly at her through hollow eyes, Tek Sok Lorn told RFA on Wednesday.

“When I walked into the prison facility to visit him, I saw his tears,” she said.

“As his wife I am really concerned about his health, since he isn’t getting any sunlight. I am requesting the court to please render justice for us, and I’m asking the judge to be loyal to the Khmer nation and know what is right and what is wrong,” she said.

Nguon Phalla, the wife another Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist, Um Yet, said she had previously been able to bring him food every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and that he had been in good health during the last four months.

But now her husband has lost weight, has high blood pressure, and suffers from stomach pains possibly caused by malnutrition, she said.

“[The court] should release him,” Nguon Phalla said, adding, “He appears to have lost about 10 kilos of weight after being held for only six months, and I’m concerned that if he’s left like this he may lose even more, and that his life may be at risk.”

“I’m asking the court to release him and drop all the charges against him,” she added.

Verdicts to be announced

On June 30, the Tbong Khmum provincial court will announce verdicts in the cases of 14 political and land-rights activists. Eight of these, including six CNRP members and two land-rights activists, are now being held in the provincial prison, sources said.

Arrested between late 2020 and January 2021, they face charges of plotting, conspiracy to topple the government, and inciting social chaos for having worn T-shirts bearing political slogans and for gathering in protest last year in front of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.

The CNRP was banned and disbanded, and its leader Kem Sokha arrested, in late 2017 as part of a wider crackdown on civil society by longtime ruler Hun Sen, driving many party leaders into exile.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, Nuth Savana—spokesperson for the General Directorate of Prisons—said that inmates’ families are allowed to bring them food, medicine, and other amenities, and that prison officials always pay attention to the condition of their prisoners’ health.

The rate of new COVID-19 infections in the prisons is now declining, though one new case was recently found in the Kompong Thom provincial prison, Nuth Savana said. Physical contact between prisoners and their families is still barred, though, he added.

“During a workshop we held yesterday with the International Red Cross, we discussed the possibility of allowing video calls or phone calls between inmates and their families. These are all just options for discussion, though,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

'We cannot be silent'

Prum Chantha, the wife of political opposition figure Kak Komphear who remains locked up in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison, said that after her group—named “Friday wives” for their weekly protests—appealed for help from foreign embassies, prison officials allowed her to send food to her husband.

She is still not allowed to meet with him in person, though, she said.

Prum Chantha said she is concerned over reports of the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons, adding that her group will continue to appeal to foreign embassies in Cambodia for intervention in their husbands’ cases.

“We cannot be silent. My husband didn’t commit any legal offense, so I must demand his release and look for ways to make that happen,” she said. “If all these officials were in this position, they would also miss their spouses and children,” she added.

Prison food often lacks nutrition, and prison officials should allow inmates’ family members to visit and bring them food, said Am Sam Ath of the local rights group Licadho.

“We always look for ways to encourage the prison department to facilitate visits by the families of detainees,” he said.

Courts and the relevant government departments should also address the issue of overcrowding in the prisons, Am Sam Ath said.

“We have seen the the Ministry of Justice is currently drafting a proposal to allow inmates whose full sentences have almost been served to be released under certain conditions. But we also want to see a decision reached in the cases of prisoners held while waiting for their trial.”

“We call on the courts to speed up their procedures so that these cases can be heard, with some detainees being given priority for release,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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