Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that he has agreed to hold early polls in addition to adopting election reforms as part of a compromise agreement with opposition leader Sam Rainsy, calling for a signing of the deal between the two parties in front of King Norodom Sihamoni.
But Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said the agreement was only “80 percent” complete and that he had to wait for his deputy Kem Sokha to return from a U.S. visit for any finalization and signing of the deal.
Hun Sen said he agreed during extensive talks with Sam Rainsy via telephone on Wednesday that he would call for commune elections in February 2017 and general elections in February 2018, five months earlier than scheduled, as part of a compromise to end a political deadlock that had gripped Cambodia since the last elections in July 2013.
Hun Sen had also agreed to revamp the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC), which had declared the premier’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) the victor in the July 28 elections despite CNRP claims of widespread election irregularities.
Hun Sen claimed the two leaders decided during their 45-minute talks to sign the deal on Friday in front of King Sihamoni, acting as a witness.
The NEC membership is currently handpicked by the ruling CPP. The CNRP wants the membership to be more representative of the electorate and to be approved by two-thirds of the National Assembly, the country’s parliament.
Based on the official results of the July elections, the CPP won 68 seats in parliament to the CNRP’s 55, but the CNRP has claimed it won at least 63 and boycotted the National Assembly since it started its sessions in September.
Sam Rainsy said that the talks were “positive” and that Hun Sen had agreed to “reform the NEC as defined by the constitution, and reform the media and call for early elections.”
However, he said, the CPP and CNRP had reached agreement on about “80 percent” of the deal, aimed at ending the opposition party’s boycott of the National Assembly.
A major outstanding issue is a fixed date for the new elections, he said. Previously, the CNRP wanted a mid-term election in early 2016.
Waiting for Kem Sokha's return
Sam Rainsy also said that he could not sign the deal on Friday because he had to wait for Kem Sokha to return from the United States.
“Previously, we wanted to have a top leaders meeting at the royal place this Friday, but we are having technical problems because Kem Sokha is still abroad,” Sam Rainsy said.
“There must be signatures from both Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha for any deal,” he said.
The two leaders had merged their political parties to put up a joint fight against Hun Sen before the last elections.
Kem Sokha, speaking from Washington state, said Hun Sen has exaggerated some of the conclusions at the talks.
He said that issues such as the mandatory approval of the NEC reform by the National Assembly have not been part of the compromise yet.
Kem Sokha accused Hun Sen of trying to split his party.
“This is the same strategy to split me and Sam Rainsy. Any decision must comply with the party’s regulations. Any decision must be made by me and Sam Rainsy,” Kem Sokha said.
Hun Sen threatened to unveil a tape of the conversation between him and Sam Rainsy if the opposition leader “changes his mind.”
“We can’t sign any deal, not because of Hun Sen or the CPP or Sam Rainsy, but purely because of Kem Sokha,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.