Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni has invited Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy for talks this week aimed at resolving a standoff over recent elections as Sam Rainsy’s party filed a lawsuit accusing the country's election body of vote fraud.
Both Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy have said they will attend the Saturday meeting, which will be their first since the hotly disputed July 28 elections.
The king sent invitations to the two leaders on Thursday to join him in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh “to participate in a meeting presided over by me to resolve national issues” stemming from the elections.
The king had on Monday called for the country’s new parliament to convene Sept. 23 after official election results over the weekend confirmed a victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
But Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has challenged the results, alleging widespread vote fraud, and threatened to boycott parliament.
Before announcing the talks, King Sihamoni, who returned Wednesday from a nearly month-long trip to China for a medical check-up, had come under criticism for not stepping in to help resolve the deadlock.
“I … will participate in the meeting as invited,” Hun Sen responded to the king Thursday, saying CPP secretary general Say Chhum and Interior Minister Sar Kheng would go with him.
CNRP deputy chief Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service he and party president Sam Rainsy will join the talks, where they will ask the king to broker an independent probe into election fraud charges.
He said the party was pushing for discussion on the probe to be included on the meeting’s agenda.
“We have written to the king to say that we would like him to provide us justice for voters,” Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“We will submit to the king an agenda item on the king seeking justice to establish an independent committee to investigate election irregularities,” he said.
The king’s meeting with be held just ahead of another protest rally Sunday planned by the CNRP to highlight its demand for an independent probe.
The rally in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park has to be confined to 10,000 people and can be held from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., the Interior Ministry told the CNRP Thursday as it gave conditional approval to the party to hold the rally.
The rally also must be contained inside the park, with demonstrators barred from marching along public streets, the ministry said.
CNRP supporters greet Sam Rainsy at a demonstration in Siem Reap, Sept. 12, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
It will not allow the CNRP to hold protests on Sept. 16 and 17 because of junior high school examinations scheduled on those days, Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng said.
On Thursday, some 10,000 people participated in a protest in Siem Reap, a top tourism hub that is one of the country’s biggest cities.
In Phnom Penh, some 100 people including monks gathered at the city’s main temple Wat Phnom to pray for peace and calm amid the election tensions. Lawsuit
Also on Thursday, the CNRP filed a lawsuit against the National Election Committee (NEC), which managed the election, accusing it of vote fraud.
In the suit filed with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, it accused three top NEC officials of faking voter names on the electoral rolls, using "fake election results," and abusing the election law.
The lawsuit comes after the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, dismissed all of the opposition’s complaints against the NEC in its 17-day review, upholding the NEC’s preliminary results and paving the way for the Hun Sen’ official victory.
On Thursday, the Constitutional Council issued a statement warning that those who fail to “respect” its decision could face imprisonment.
“The Constitutional Council would like to reaffirm that it has already examined and ruled on election disputes since Sept 6,” the statement said.
It cited Article 36 of the law establishing the court as saying that those who “do not respect” the Constitutional Council’s rulings or “obstruct its operations” can face a penalty of between one month to 1 year in prison and a fine of 100,000 riel to 600,000 riel (U.S. $25 to $150).
Official NEC results announced following the conclusion of the Constitutional Council’s review gave the CPP a slight majority in parliament with 68 seats to the CNRP’s 55.
The CNRP, which claims it won at least 63 seats and called for a U.N.-backed investigation to probe widespread irregularities in the polls.
The CPP has long maintained it will convene parliament even without the CNRP's participation.
Some constitutional experts have said that the opposition lawmakers must be present at the first parliamentary session for any new government to be endorsed.
The CPP claims, however, that it is entitled to convene parliament because it has 50 percent of the seats.Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.