The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Wednesday questioned the sincerity of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party in efforts to resolve a 10-month political standoff amid an impasse in negotiations to reform the country’s electoral body following disputed polls.
The CNRP’s Deputy President Kem Sokha said that he doesn’t expect an easy resolution to the standoff that has led to elected CNRP lawmakers boycotting parliament.
“I don’t believe that the CPP wants to work with my party to end the political deadlock,” Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“There is nothing new … As I understand, the CPP only wants to test us,” he said from the campaign trail in Kampong Cham province, after the CNRP gained ground on the ruling party in local council elections last week.
During the last round of talks last week, the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) were unable to agree on how to revamp the government-appointed National Election Commission (NEC) which declared the CPP as winner of the July 2013 polls despite widespread fraud claims.
Working groups decided to draft their own statements on reforming the electoral process, saying they would meet again early this week, but negotiators announced Wednesday that they had failed to reschedule talks, without providing details.
“They invited experts [to come to Cambodia] to see if we would change our stance, but we didn’t and now they have withdrawn. We have yet to see what other tricks they will employ next,” Kom Sokha said.
Following a request from the government, a Japanese study team traveled to Cambodia on May 19 for a five-day visit to assist on electoral reform, but the CNRP refused to budge on its demands to revamp the NEC, which the opposition and rights groups have accused of lacking independence from the CPP.
The CNRP had proposed that the mandate of the NEC be enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution, but the CPP would not agree, resulting in a stalemate.
Blame for impasse
Meanwhile, working groups from the two parties laid blame for the stalled talks at one another’s feet.
CNRP working group member Kuy Bunroeun told RFA Wednesday that the opposition party had drafted a statement on key decisions that had been jointly made and which was delivered to the CPP, per the agreement set at the end of talks last week, though he did not disclose what terms were included.
“We are waiting for answers from the CPP,” he said. “We have sent our statement to the CPP but have seen no result yet.”
CPP working group member Cheam Yeap said he hopes that the two parties would meet again “soon,” adding that there is no better way to end the impasse than to hold talks.
“The winning parties must talk,” he said.
“No solutions will come from demonstrations,” he added, referring to repeated calls from opposition supporters for Hun Sen to step down and for the government to hold new general elections.
Hang Puthea, director of the election watchdog Neutral & Impartial Committee for Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec), expressed frustration over the long-standing dispute, saying that the two parties “are playing games” and, despite calls for talks, have done little to find a resolution.
“The two parties value their own interests much more than the country, and that is why there is a deadlock,” he said.
Last week’s talks ended with the two sides deciding to draft statements on 14 points they had agreed to in principle in March, including guidelines on how to reform voter registrations and voting lists, laws on providing financial support to political parties, and party access to independent media.
Other points included rules on 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.
In April, CNRP president 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.
Reported by Samean Yun and Tin Zakariya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.