Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties resumed talks Thursday in a bid to end a nearly 10-month political standoff, with the two sides still remaining far apart on how to reform the electoral body which oversees the ballot.
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Kuy Bunroeun, who participated in the talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) representatives, said that the two parties were unable to agree on how to revamp the National Election Commission (NEC).
The opposition and rights groups have accused the NEC, which declared the CPP the winner in the July 2013 general election despite allegations of fraud, of lacking independence from the government.
The disputed elections had led elected opposition lawmakers to boycott parliament in protest.
Kuy Bunroeun said the CNRP had proposed that the mandate of the NEC be enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution, but the CPP would not agree, resulting in an impasse which ended Thursday’s talks with plans to meet again “early next week.”
“We want the NEC to be a constitutional institution,” he said, adding that the CNRP plans to stand strong on its proposal for reforming the electoral body.
CPP lead negotiator and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng urged the CNRP to agree to a meeting of the parties’ top leaders, adding the both sides must have the “political will” to resolve the ongoing standoff.
“Now what we need is good political will because we had already resolved many issues, but in the end we abandoned what we had agreed upon,” he said.
“Only true will can resolve the deadlock.”
Kuy Bunroeun said that the two teams on Thursday also decided to draft their own statements on 14 points they had agreed to in principle in March on reforming the electoral process.
Among the points, he said, were guidelines on how to reform voter registrations and voting lists, laws on providing financial support to political parties, party access to independent media, election dispute resolution, election monitoring and how to ensure neutrality of the armed forces during the vote.
The two sides also agreed that a new election should be held in the aftermath of the disputed July 28 ballot but without any decision on the timing of the fresh polls.
Kuy Bunroeun said that the teams would take the list of agreed upon points back to their respective party headquarters for review and that any approval would have to first come from Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy.
“We want the working groups to consider which points can be accepted,” Kuy Bunroeun said.
“Each party will draft its main points and see whether they match up.”
The CPP and CNRP have had several rounds of negotiations in the nearly 10 months since last year’s disputed 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.
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, 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.
Thursday’s talks followed elections for the country’s provincial, municipal, and district councils, which wrapped up over the weekend, with the ruling party winning the most seats but the opposition gaining ground.
Reported by Tin Zakariya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.