Lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) will consider boycotting parliament again if Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party continues to delay an agreement on electoral reform, according to CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha.
The two parties have reached a deadlock in talks on forging an agreement to shake up the country’s election body, the National Election Committee (NEC), after the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) imposed various conditions denying independent officials a seat in the panel, according to sources.
Kem Sokha, CNRP deputy president and the number two leader of parliament (National Assembly), said if his party members could not get electoral reforms through the assembly, they would hold a “people’s convention” to let the public decide whether they consider a boycott of the legislature.
“If we’ve entered the National Assembly, and they [CPP members] manipulate us, and the NEC isn’t changed, we will hold a convention in Phnom Penh again and ask all the representatives to make a decision: Should the CNRP’s lawmakers continue to sit in the assembly or leave and do something else?” Kem Sokha told his supporters on Sunday at a public forum in western Cambodia’s Pursat province.
Electoral reforms are a key part of a July 22 agreement between the two parties that saw elected CNRP lawmakers return to the National Assembly following a 10-month boycott protesting the July 2013 election results.
Under the agreement, the new NEC will consist of nine members—four from each party and one neutral member to serve as tiebreaker—and the two parties are to prepare a joint proposal for parliament to endorse.
The CNRP and CPP have been holding working group meetings to discuss the NEC reform but have been unable to conclude a draft law to regulate the body.
Officials said last month that 90 percent of the draft law had been agreed upon without identifying the problem areas.
One CNRP source had said the differences were related to the selection of the powerful posts of NEC secretary general and deputy secretary general.
The CPP had imposed conditions such as disallowing those with dual citizenship from becoming NEC members.
The latest meeting of the working group on Monday is believed to have also ended in a deadlock.
The group will meet again on Dec. 1 in a final session before top party leaders are consulted on a decision.
CNRP working team chairman Kuy Bunroeun told RFA’s Khmer Service that at Monday’s meeting the groups discussed the mandate for the new NEC and member selection.
He said NEC staff should be considered civil servants, and the posts should be open to qualified candidates.
“The CPP working team can’t make any decisions [on overcoming the differences],” he said. “They need to seek approval from the party’s leaders.”
‘Not a good option’
In response to Kem Sokha’s warning, CPP lawmaker Chheang Von said the two parties already had a process to establish the new NEC according to their July 22 deal.
He also said Kem Sokha could not decide on his own whether all CNRP lawmakers would resign from parliament.
“The threat to resign from the assembly is not a good option,” he told RFA. "The word ‘resign’ is a confrontational term that we shouldn’t use, but if he wants to resign, he can leave tomorrow. It wouldn’t bother us.”
Sok Touch, a political analyst and rector of Khemarak University in the capital Phnom Penh, warned that if CNRP lawmakers walked away from the assembly, the new NEC would not be set up, leading to social unrest in case of disputed elections.
“Social unrest will reemerge following the next election” in 2018, he said.
Reported by Tin Zakariya and Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.