A U.N. rights envoy to Cambodia on Thursday expressed “cautious optimism” that the parties of Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy would move toward ending their seven-month political deadlock following an agreement achieved this week between the two sides on a set of electoral reforms.
But Sam Rainsy indicated that there was no immediate political resolution in sight, saying his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) would not end its boycott of parliament over disputed July polls until there was an agreement on holding fresh elections.
Surya Subedi, the U.N. Special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, welcomed a five-point agreement on reforming the election system reached between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) on Monday, including pledges to work together to revamp the voter registration process and review campaign financing procedures.
“I welcome the agreements reached by the Joint Committee composed of the [two parties] to proceed, among other things, on two concrete measures for electoral reform: to review the voter registry and to elaborate a draft law on the financing of political parties,” Subedi said in a statement.
“I hope with cautious optimism that progress toward the remaining unresolved issues will soon be made between the two parties.”
But the CNRP is stressing that despite joining the talks, it will not back down on its demands for fresh elections.
'Two separate problems'
Sam Rainsy said in a speech posted on his Facebook page Thursday that the party’s elected lawmakers will continue to boycott the National Assembly, the country's parliament, if the government doesn't resolve the July 2013 election disputes.
"I would like to clarify CNRP’s position with regard to our joining the National Assembly and the holding of a new election. These are two separate problems: we will not join the Assembly until there is an agreement on the holding of a new election," Sam Rainsy said.
He said that the issue over the new election itself is divided into "two distinct points — the date when the new poll takes place, and the election reform to ensure transparency, freedom, and fairness for any future poll."
Sam Rainsy added that fixing the date of the upcoming election is a "political issue which has not even been tackled yet."
"Election reform is a more technical issue which we have started to discuss because, whatever the date chosen for any election in the future, this problem has to be addressed beforehand."
Cambodia has been locked in a stalemate since the July 28 elections after the country’s main electoral body ignored CNRP demands for an independent probe into election irregularities and declared the CPP victor despite allegations of widespread irregularities, including fraud.
The CNRP led a series of street protests after its repeated calls for reelections were dismissed by Hun Sen, though a ban imposed on public protests in early January brought them to a halt.
The ban was issued Jan. 5 after security forces violently dispersed CNRP-led demonstrations at a park in the capital, after police shot dead five protesters in a crackdown on garment worker strikes a day earlier.
Respect freedom of assembly
Subedi welcomed Hun Sen’s announcement on the lifting of the protest ban last month, but said that authorities need to do more to ensure it is not still being enforced and to respect freedom of assembly.
“I am concerned that some demonstrations continue to be blocked and persons are still routinely detained for distributing leaflets encouraging workers to strike.”
“I look forward to seeing the ban lift effectively adopted so that free expression and peaceful assembly could once again be exercised,” he said.
He added that he was “deeply troubled” by remarks made by Hun Sen last month suggesting the CPP should organize counter-demonstrations at the same time as opposition demonstrations.
Allowing demonstrations too close to opposition demonstration rallies would be a violation of the country’s Law on Peaceful Demonstrations, he warned.
The CNRP has vowed to renew mass demonstrations in order to put pressure on Hun Sen, but has held no large-scale demonstrations since the ban was lifted.
Representatives from the two parties are set to meet again on March 10, and both sides have expressed confidence the talks will lead to talks between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy, who last met in September.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.