Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties agreed on Monday to avoid violence and work together to reform the country’s election process following a second round of talks launched by the country’s king, according to party officials.
But Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) remained far apart on addressing opposition claims of widespread voter irregularities in the July 28 polls.
The rare talks were held a day after security forces shot dead one protester and wounded several others in clashes as the CNRP led a demonstration by tens of thousands of people in the capital Phnom Penh to press for an independent probe into the election irregularities.
The demonstration continued on Monday as Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy led their parties to the meeting.
The talks followed up on those held at the Royal Palace Saturday presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni, who had called on the two parties to work together after the CNRP refused to accept results by the National Election Committee (NEC) declaring the CPP as victor in the hotly-contested polls and threatened to boycott parliament.
CNRP Deputy President Kem Sokha said that Monday’s talks at the building of the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, were tense and that he pressed Hun Sen on several tough questions over the election irregularities, including the removal of one million voters from the electoral rolls.
“I asked him whether the CPP believes that there were election irregularities and if they don’t believe so, why would they agree to election reforms,” Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service after the meeting.
“He said that it was a good question and admitted that there were irregularities, but said that they were not serious enough to affect the election outcome. This is the point that we can’t agree upon.”
The government-appointed NEC, which oversees the country’s elections, and the Cambodian Constitutional Court (CCC), the nation’s highest court, have both said that all claims of poll irregularities have been investigated and rejected, making an independent probe unnecessary.
The NEC announced final results last week that showed the CPP securing 68 seats in the National Assembly compared with CNRP’s 55. But the CNRP says it has been robbed of victory, claiming it had won at least 63 seats.
The opposition party has filed a lawsuit against the NEC, accusing it of vote fraud.
Kem Sokha said that Hun Sen had begun the meeting by immediately discussing a power sharing agreement in the National Assembly, but he said that the CNRP refused to discuss such an arrangement without first addressing the issue of the irregularities and the election results.
“The CNRP informed the CPP that it can’t negotiate National Assembly compositions before demanding justice for the voters,” Kem Sokha said.
“Our talk agenda [initially] failed. One side wanted to talk about the National Assembly makeup while the other wanted to talk about election irregularities.”
He said that after the breakdown the two parties moved on to discuss a framework to reform the election process.
“We agreed to establish a mechanism between the two parties to debate reforming the election process in a way that isn’t overseen only by the NEC,” he said, adding that nongovernmental organizations will also be allowed to participate in the process.
He said that the two parties “can’t stop talks,” and that the CNRP would entertain “discussions about national assembly compositions” only after its concerns over ballot fraud were addressed. The two sides agreed to meet again Tuesday.
Kem Sokha said that he had also requested that Hun Sen and the CPP consider releasing all CNRP supporters who were arrested before the election for campaign-related activities.
CPP spokesman Prak Sokhon told a joint press conference that the meeting between Hun Sen and the opposition leaders “produced a positive result,” but maintained that the CPP would not agree to investigate election results.
“The CPP won’t go back and reverse the election result, but the party is complying with the King’s ideas for national reconciliation,” he said, adding that Sihamoni had invited 68 CPP and 55 CNRP elected lawmakers to the opening session of the National Assembly on Sept. 23, meaning that he agreed with official election results.
“The CPP can’t go back because establishing an independent committee is illegal [according to what] the NEC and CCC have already decided. They have given the CPP 68 seats and the CNRP 55 seats, and we have no right to step backward.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said it was “unfortunate” that the CPP had refused to establish an investigative committee, vowing that the CNRP would continue demonstrations until Tuesday.
“The CPP said we need to respect the results and respect the King’s message that we should join the first assembly session, but we have not reached any compromise on these issues,” he said.
“The CNRP continues to demand a committee to seek the truth.”
Yim Sovann said that in the week ahead of the first assembly session the two parties would continue to meet to try to find a solution.
The two sides also agreed to honor a statement released by the King on Monday calling on the CPP and CNRP to restrain authorities and protesters from provoking violence.
On Sunday, at the sidelines of a CNRP protest rally attended by tens of thousands in Freedom Park, a man was shot dead by police during clashes at a key intersection near the Kbal Thnal Bridge, human rights groups said.
The man, who was later identified as Mao Sok Chan, was seen to be wearing a yellow head band with the words, "We demand Justice" worn mostly by CNRP supporters who had participated in the protest. He was given a funeral and cremated Monday.
In a separate incident, police opened fire and used tear gas and water cannons on a group of protesters who dismantled barbed-wire barricades in front of the Royal Palace.
Kem Sokha said Monday that the CNRP provided U.S. $2,500 to the family of Mao Sok Chan, adding that he was not a CNRP supporter and had been traveling to his home when he was shot with a stray bullet.
The Permanent Security Command Committee for the Elections issued a statement on Monday saying that officials are investigating the shooting incident.
The statement said the shooting broke out after “opportunists destroyed police barricades,” adding that “police tried to ask the opportunists to stop, but they responded with violent acts against the authorities, resulting in one person dead and [security personnel] injured.”
Thousands remained at the main protest site Monday, many having camped out overnight despite warnings from the government.
London-based Amnesty International issued a statement Monday demanding that authorities “urgently investigate” the killing and injuries that resulted from Sunday’s clash, calling for a “full disclosure about why the security forces resorted to lethal force.”
The rights group urged security forces to “refrain from any use of excessive force” in light of Cambodia’s tense atmosphere in the aftermath of the disputed election.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.