Cambodia’s PM, Opposition Leader Agree on Reform to Electoral Body: Lawmaker

cambodia-talks-sept-2013.jpg Prime Minister Hun Sen (r) and opposition leader Sam Rainsy (l) shake hands after talks at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Sept. 17, 2013.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have agreed on procedures for appointing new members to the country’s electoral body during their first talks in seven months aimed at breaking a political deadlock following disputed polls last year, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

The discussion, held by telephone, was only the second round of top-level negotiations since disputed July 28 elections that saw Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) named the victor by the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s polls.

Elected lawmakers from Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have boycotted the National Assembly, or parliament, in protest of the election results, and the opposition has demanded that Hun Sen step down and allow for new polls following election reforms.

CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang told RFA’s Khmer Service that Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy agreed Wednesday to reform measures concerning the approval of new members to the NEC, which the opposition has said lacks independence from the government.

“What I heard from the discussion was that there is an agreement that the new NEC [members] will be submitted to the National Assembly and that they will have to be approved by the parties that were elected to the assembly,” he said.

After the July polls, which the opposition maintains were fraught with irregularities, the NEC declared the CPP the winner with 68 seats in the 123-seat parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP claimed it won at least 63.

If the CNRP ends its boycott of parliament, it will deny the CPP of its long running two-thirds majority—even by the 55 seats the NEC says it had won.

It was unclear whether Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy had discussed the CNRP’s return to the National Assembly.

Last month, the CPP rejected an opposition proposal to revamp the NEC as a third round of talks between the two parties aimed at ending the political stalemate broke down.

The CNRP said in a statement at the time that the CPP was unwilling to accept its demand for a rapid restructure of the NEC which would see its members appointed by the National Assembly and endorsed by a two-thirds majority of the legislature but that the CPP had refused.

Political solutions

The two sides also discussed various solutions to the country’s political crisis, Eng Chhay Eang said.

“They talked about holding a reelection before the end of the [current term],” he said.

“They also discussed elections at the commune level, [additional] reforms to the NEC, and ensuring that the media provides equal coverage for all political parties.”

Wednesday’s talks followed a statement from Hun Sen earlier this week suggesting that he and Rainsy should discuss the political situation over the phone.

CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun confirmed that the two leaders had spoken, but said that the government would not bow to opposition demands for a reelection.

“Political parties can't pressure the government,” he said.

“The law doesn't allow for an election before the end of a term.”

Turbulent relations

Earlier this week, Hun Sen threatened to take legal action against Sam Rainsy for allegedly criticizing Cambodia’s king in a letter urging the monarch not to endorse the formation of a “single-party” parliament.

Rainsy sent the letter last week in response to a statement by King Norodom Sihamoni congratulating the country’s parliament on its formation despite the CNRP boycott.

Rainsy, meanwhile, has called for a mass demonstration to be held May 2 in which “two million” CNRP supporters would take part, demanding Hun Sen's resignation and a national reelection, to which the prime minister has threatened a CPP counter-demonstration.

The CNRP has led a series of demonstrations attended by thousands of supporters last year’s elections it claims were rigged by the CPP.

In early January, government security forces shot five people dead in Phnom Penh while putting down a protest by CNRP-backed garment workers demanding higher wages, and a day later violently dispelled opposition supporters from the city's Freedom Park, where they had called for Hun Sen to step down.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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