The deputy chief of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said Wednesday that the party will stand firm and not “betray the will of the people” in negotiations with the ruling party aimed at ending the country’s political crisis.
Kem Sokha said the CNRP will make sure its demands for new elections and electoral reforms, including an overhaul of the country’s main electoral body, will be a key part of any compromise reached with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“I promise that the CNRP won't betray the people’s will. The CNRP will serve the people’s interest,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service while on a visit to Washington.
The party would stick to its “firm stance” on demands for fresh polls, electoral reform, and changes to the CPP-picked National Election Committee, which oversees the country’s polls, he added.
He was commenting on talks held between Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy last week which had indicated a near-deal in resolving the eight-month standoff the two parties have been locked in since disputed elections in July last year.
Hun Sen said, after a phone conversation with Sam Rainsy, that he had agreed to hold early polls and would call them in February 2018, five months before the end of his term.
Sam Rainsy said, however, that the CNRP, which had previously insisted on early 2016 polls, had not agreed with Hun Sen on an election date and that their compromise was only “80 percent” complete.
Kem Sokha said Sam Rainsy did not agree in the talks to setting February 2018 as a date for the new elections, saying Sam Rainsy had initially thought Hun Sen had agreed to various CNRP's requests during the talks but later found the CPP was playing a “trick.”
"Sam Rainsy didn't agree to have elections in February 2018,” he said.
Kem Sokha said he had discussed the issue with Sam Rainsy and that setting such a late date for fresh polls was not in the people’s interests.
“What the CPP wants for a political compromise will be for the loss of the nation’s interest and will not reflect the will of the people. The people want an early election.”
“The election must be held in late 2016 so that we have some time to prepare new voting lists,” he said.
Hun Sen had warned shortly after his talks with Sam Rainsy that although the two sides had reached a compromise, Kem Sokha might break it, suggesting a rift between the two CNRP leaders.
Late last week Sam Rainsy rejected an offer by Hun Sen to sign a deal based on their talks in front of King Norodom Sihamoni.
The CNRP indicated that a deal was not signed because Kem Sokha, who is currently on a 20-day U.S. tour, was out of the country.
Kem Sokha rejected claims that he and Sam Rainsy were anything less than united in their decisions, saying Hun Sen had made such comments as part of a “trick” aimed at splitting the CNRP.
"There might be some differences in terms of thinking but there is only one decision," he said.
“Sam Rainsy doesn’t make any decisions alone; we make decisions together. The CPP is playing a trick – they want to make it seem as if we’re on different pages.”
He reaffirmed that the CNRP, which has boycotted parliament in protest against last year’s polls, will not join the legislature until its demands are met.
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.
Reported by Huot Vuthy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.