Hang Puthea, 50, has served as the executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) for 17 years. He is a vocal advocate for election reform in Cambodia and has a reputation for pragmatism. Puthea has a PhD in law from Kazakhstan’s Al-Farabi Kazakh National University.
Why is he in the news?
Puthea was officially accepted by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on April 22 as a member and spokesperson of the newly reorganized National Election Committee (NEC), ending months of wrangling between the two parties. Puthea will serve as the neutral member of the committee that includes four members each chosen by the CNRP and CPP. The establishment of the election commission marked a new political accommodation between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, ending a long political standoff following the hotly contested 2013 national elections.
What can we expect from him?
Puthea has vowed to ensure the neutrality of the next general election, to be held in February 2018, and has agreed to bring in advisers from Japan and the European Union to assist in the process of electoral reform. He has said that the election commission’s first objectives will be to finalize the criteria for voter eligibility and then to educate the public on how to enroll in a new voting system.
Despite a recent warming of relations between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, some observers have expressed concerns that tensions will rise as the election nears. As the lone neutral voice in the election commission, Puthea could play a vital role in trying to manage tensions, especially in the case of a close election. Puthea’s stated priority will be to ensure that the election is conducted fairly and that the losing party not be inclined to challenge the result.
Thumbnail image of CNRP protests. Source: Jacqui Collis99’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.