Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy held their first meeting Saturday in a bid to break a political deadlock over hotly disputed elections but made no immediate headway.
The meeting was called by King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh after Sam Rainsy refused to accept official results of the July 28 elections which gave victory to Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
Talks are to continue Monday, but the opposition leader said he would forge ahead with mass protests scheduled on Sunday to back calls by his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) for an independent investigation into fraud and other irregularities in the elections.
Sam Rainsy also called on King Sihamoni to postpone the first sitting of the post-election parliament which the monarch had called for on Sept. 23 until a resolution of the election dispute.
"It is most appropriate that we investigate [the irregularities] and respect the voters' will. We shouldn't rush, otherwise it's against the voters' will," Sam Rainsy told RFA's Khmer Service after the palace meeting.
"That is why we [CNRP] have requested the king to find a solution to make sure that we respect the voters' will. The King respects the people so he can't do anything which contradicts the voters' will."
Sam Rainsy also urged supporters to come out in full force for the protest rally Sunday to underscore the "people's choice" for an impartial probe into the ballot irregularities.
The Hun Sen administration has rejected CNRP's call for such a probe, and on Saturday his party again scoffed at the idea.
The CPP "can't accept any request from the CNRP to establish an independent committee," CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap said.
"There is only one choice for the voters who demand justice [and that] is to hold a massive demonstration. Sunday's mass demonstration is an ultimatum, we must show our muscle. The stronger we are, we will succeed," Sam Rainsy said.
"If there is a small turnout, it will be interpreted that the people have abandoned their demand and then we will lose," he said. "We should not allow them to steal our votes."
No direct talks
Sam Rainsy said that there were no direct talks between Hun Sen and him at the meeting called by the King on Saturday, adding that all three read out statements during the less than 30-minute audience.
Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy will lead their delegations for further talks at the National Assembly on Monday, officials said.
On Saturday, the king launched the meeting by reading from his prepared text, urging the CPP and CNRP to end their dispute for the sake of "political and social stability and national interest " and calling on them to attend the first meeting of the National Assembly, the country's parliament.
Hun Sen said in his remarks that the final election results announced by the National Election Committee (NEC), which supervised the polls, should be respected while Sam Rainsy pushed for the need to establish an independent committee to probe the election irregularities.
"Sam Rainsy told the King that CNRP would not accept the election irregularities," deputy CNRP president Kem Sokha told a news conference. "Sam Rainsy said that there are too many irregularities and we can't abandon our stand to demand justice for the people."
Among the irregularities, according to the CNRP, is that about one million voters had been scrapped from the electoral rolls.
Also on Saturday, in a separate closed-door meeting at the CNRP headquarters, the party's 55 elected lawmakers agreed that they should stay away from the National Assembly meeting scheduled on Sept. 23.
They said that they would write a letter to the king informing him of their decision and calling for the meeting to be postponed.
"We have agreed to write to the king in order to request the king to delay the meeting for the first Assembly meeting," CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann. "CNRP regards justice as the most important issue."
Kem Sokha, who had accompanied Sam Rainsy to the palace talks on Saturday, said that CNRP will continue to push for an independent probe at the Monday meeting.
"The CPP said they don't want to establish an independent committee, but we want it. When we can't reach a compromise, we need to talk and we will continue to maintain our stand," he said. "If the talks fail, the demonstration will become bigger. We won't talk to share power."
The NEC's final results announced last weekend showed that Sam Rainsy's party made major gains in the July vote, although the ruling party retained a majority in the National Assembly. Official results gave Hun Sen's party 68 seats in the National Assembly and Sam Rainsy's 55.
The CNRP says it has been robbed of victory, claiming it had won at least 63 seats. It has filed a lawsuit against the NEC, accusing it of vote fraud.
In the suit filed this week 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 came after the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, had earlier dismissed all of the opposition’s election complaints against the NEC after a 17-day review.
Reported by Vuthy Huot for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.