[JURIST] Cambodian lawmakers on Thursday voted by an overwhelming margin to approve a new electoral commission that promises to ensure fairness in the next national vote in 2018. The vote came after opposition leader Sam Rainsey criticized the electoral commission for being biased and disputed the 2013 election results [BBC report], which sparked a political crisis and mass demonstrations. The new commission [AP report] is made up of four members of Rainsey’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) [party website, in Khmer], four from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s [BBC profile] Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) [party website, in Khmer] and one neutral slot reserved for the head of an independent electoral watchdog group. Hun Sen’s party has been in power for nearly three decades and allegedly intimidates opposition groups. The legislation needs to be passed by the Senate, but that is considered a formality.
Cambodia has had a history of human rights abuses which have continued to alarm rights organizations around the world. Cambodia’s Parliament passed two controversial new election laws [JURIST report] in March that rights groups are criticizing as ill-conceived and potentially damaging to free speech. The laws represent a compromise between the CPP and the CNRP in an effort to avoid the kind of political gridlock that resulted from the July 2013 reelection of Prime Minister Hun Sen, in which the CNRP refused to sit in parliament for a year. The laws are being criticized for instituting heavy fines and imposing bans against NGOs that are critical of political parties during the 21-day campaign period. In January Cambodian General Sao Sohka admitted to using force [JURIST report] against political opponents of the CPP. Earlier in January the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) restarted genocide hearings [JURIST report] against the former Khmer Rouge regime’s surviving leaders. Proceedings had been postponed since November, when defense lawyers refused to participate [JURIST report] because they were still working to appeal an earlier verdict