Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party said that it would amend laws and take other steps to reform the country’s electoral system following disputed elections that led to opposition calls for an independent probe into voter fraud and a boycott of parliament.
The assurance by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was immediately dismissed by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), calling it a ploy to ease concerns over the legitimacy of the government.
The CPP said in a statement on Monday that the proposed electoral reforms would be open to public scrutiny and take national and international recommendations into consideration.
The CPP wants to “amend the laws or other procedures involved with the election process, such as electoral and political law, in order to improve the election process,” it said.
The ruling party said it would also propose judicial reforms to “promote an accurate and transparent election process,” including a draft budget law for political parties.
The reform process will also be “open to the public,” the statement said, and will “accept any national or international recommendations.”
The CNRP has boycotted parliament since it convened for the first time last month after July 28 elections in which the CPP was declared winner by the government-appointed Election Committee despite claims of fraud and other irregularities.
According to official results, the CPP won 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55.
The CPP said that its proposal to reform the electoral process stemmed from a Sept. 16 meeting it held with the opposition.
The ruling party statement was quickly met with criticism from CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha, saying he has “no confidence” in the CPP’s commitment to electoral reform.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Kem Sokha called the statement “a pretext” to placate disenfranchised voters angered by the results of the election.
Last week, the CNRP led a “people’s congress” rally of 15,000 supporters in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park—the party’s first large protest since deadly violence broke out on the sidelines of a demonstration last month—aimed at setting an agenda for the opposition’s next moves.
The party plans to hold a general strike, lobby foreign governments, and gather support for a petition asking the U.N. to support the party's call for an independent probe into election irregularities.
The CNRP is also waging a campaign to gather millions of thumbprints for a petition calling on the U.N. and other countries to strip Cambodia of its seat at the world body.
Kem Sokha said that without ensuring independence between the government and the National Assembly, or parliament, Cambodia’s electoral system will never be fully reformed.
“Reform can only be carried out through a system of checks and balances between the government and the assembly,” he said.
Last week, the National Assembly’s nine parliamentary commissions were filled with ruling party members in a unanimous parliamentary vote by CPP lawmakers in the absence of any opposition members, prompting CNRP President Sam Rainsy to liken Cambodia’s political system to “communism.”
The government action to fill the powerful positions in the nine panels came two weeks after the CPP-controlled parliament reappointed Hun Sen prime minister and endorsed his cabinet.
The CNRP has requested the ruling party to allow it to hold the position of National Assembly president, but the CPP has refused.
Reported by Vann Vicha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.