Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy has left on a European visit but expressed the hope that a deal can be reached with Prime Minister Hun Sen to end the country’s eight-month political deadlock as early as Friday.
Rainsy traveled to the Netherlands Sunday where he is expected to “discuss the current political situation” with leaders from liberal parties around the world, as well as to meet with Cambodians living abroad, Men Sothavrith, a lawmaker from his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Rainsy is scheduled to return to Cambodia on April 29, he said.
But according to the Cambodia Daily, the opposition chief said he could fly home as early as Friday, if the CNRP and Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) can come to terms on a date for new elections—the main sticking point on an agreement between the two parties.
“I can come back any time, if there is an important event requiring my presence,” Rainsy told the daily on Sunday.
“I think [an agreement on the election date] can be reached any time after Khmer New Year, meaning the 18th. I may be back on the 18th if there is any meeting.”
On his Facebook page, Rainsy also indicated that a deal could be reached by the end of the New Year, which is celebrated April 14-16.
"We will work together to bring a change for this New Year—the change that the people have demanded,” the opposition leader posted.
“We will work to achieve our goals, including protecting our territory, fighting corruption and deforestation, and providing justice to victims of land disputes and other social injustices.”
Last week, Sam Rainsy did not accept an invitation by Hun Sen to sign an agreement in front of King Norodom Sihamoni to end the standoff that has lingered since July 28 disputed elections, on terms which Rainsy and Hun Sen had hashed out during talks via telephone.
The two leaders agreed to revamp the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC), which had declared the CPP the victor in the July 28 elections, despite CNRP claims of widespread election irregularities.
The NEC membership is currently handpicked by the ruling CPP. The CNRP wants the membership to be more representative of the electorate and to be approved by two-thirds of the National Assembly, the country’s parliament.
Based on the official results of the July elections, the CPP won 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP has claimed it won at least 63 and boycotted the National Assembly since it started its sessions in September.
But Hun Sen and Rainsy remained far apart on a date for new elections, with Hun Sen offering to hold polls in February 2018, five months before his term is set to end. Previously, the CNRP wanted a mid-term election in early 2016.
The CNRP has indicated that a deal was not signed last week because Rainsy’s second in command, Kem Sokha, is touring the U.S. until April 24. Kem Sokha has accused Hun Sen of trying to split his party.
Hun Sen had said last week that he and Rainsy had agreed “in principle” to the terms for new elections, but the opposition leader said that he and the premier had only agreed to “80 percent” of a deal.
The two parties’ inability to bring an end to the political deadlock frustrated average Cambodians who complain that the eight-month standoff had affected the economy and left them struggling to make ends meet.
Villager Ly Heng from Preah Vihear province said the ongoing feud had damaged his business.
“Food prices have increased sharply and my income has also declined,” he told RFA.
A villager in Phnom Penh named Vannak also complained about the rising cost of food, saying he was unable to afford his daily necessities.
“The political deadlock has caused our economy to tank,” he said.
“I want a political solution so that the prices of food will drop.”
No timetable has been set for the resumption of talks between the CPP and the CNRP.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.