Cambodia Opposition, Ruling Party to Resume Talks

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 ruling and opposition parties are preparing to resume negotiations aimed at ending the country’s political crisis following a hiatus for local council elections, party officials said Tuesday.

Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he had contacted Interior Minister Sar Kheng, the top negotiator for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), about plans to restart negotiations, which stalled in April amid disagreement on electoral reforms.

“Today I contacted Sar Kheng to inform him that tomorrow our representatives will contact CPP officials to renew talks to seek solutions for the current political deadlock,” the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief told RFA’s Khmer Service.

A senior CPP official told RFA the party would welcome the invitation to new talks, which comes after elections for the country’s provincial, municipal, and district councils wrapped up Sunday, with the ruling party winning the most seats but the opposition gaining ground.

The two parties have been locked in a standoff since July 2013 national elections that the CNRP claims the CPP won through fraud, prompting the opposition’s elected lawmakers to boycott parliament in protest.

They have had several rounds of negotiations in the more than nine months since the national polls, but have not held talks since April, after Sam Rainsy refused an offer from Hun Sen to sign a deal ending the deadlock on terms which the two had hashed out during talks via telephone.

Hope for 'comprehensive agreement'

In a statement released Tuesday on plans to restart the talks, Sam Rainsy said the CNRP would propose specific points for a joint statement between the two parties.

“We hope to reach a comprehensive agreement soon in order to break the current political stalemate,” he said in the statement.

“The CNRP delegation will come up with a proposal to detail the main points stated in the draft joint statement, which contains principles already agreed upon by the two parties.”

The points cover areas the two sides have agreed to in discussions and need to put into writing, he told RFA.

“We just need clarification and explanation of the details to avoid any confusion in the future,” he said.

Call for fresh polls, NEC overhaul

He said the party would stick to its demands for fresh polls to be held soon and for an overhaul of the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s elections.

“We want political solutions in response to the people’s will. We want to restructure the National Election Committee membership and to have a new election held as soon as possible,” he said.

“I am optimistic that we can find a solution.”

When refusing Hun Sen’s offer in April, Sam Rainsy had said that the two were not in full agreement.

The two leaders had agreed to revamp the NEC, which declared the CPP the victor in the July 28 elections despite CNRP claims of widespread election irregularities, and which the opposition says lacks independence from the ruling party.

But they were far apart on a date for new elections, with the prime minister offering to hold polls in February 2018 following earlier demands from the CNRP for a mid-term election in early 2016.

Shortly after their talk by phone, Sam Rainsy left Cambodia to travel to Europe and his deputy Kem Sokha went to Australia, returning to campaign ahead of the council elections.

Senior CPP lawmaker and negotiator Chheang Vun welcomed the CNRP’s move to resume talks, but said breaking the deadlock would require “political will” from the opposition.

He said any joint statement proposed by the CNRP should stick to terms already agreed to in the last statement issued by the two parties.

“I think if the CNRP complies with the statement, it will be a success for the people,” he told RFA.

He expressed agreement with Sam Rainsy that most of the difficult issues have already been resolved and that only a few minor issues remain.

Reported and translated by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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