Cambodia’s ruling and opposition parties have agreed to consider a 14-point election reform agenda aimed at ending months of political deadlock, including a contentious proposal to revamp the country’s main electoral body, representatives said Tuesday.
The initial agreement was forged at the third round of talks between representatives from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) since negotiations began in earnest two weeks ago.
Among the 14 agenda items they agreed on at Monday’s meeting was reforming the National Election Committee (NEC), which manages the country’s elections.
The opposition has charged that the last elections on July 28, 2013 were rigged and has boycotted parliament and demanded fresh polls.
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—a proposal flatly rejected by the CPP.
The issue had last week threatened to derail the talks after the CNRP warned it would walk out unless the CPP agreed to consider its demands for an independent, constitutionally recognized election body.
Among other topics on the agenda are voter registration lists, the law on the financing of political parties, the role of nongovernmental organizations in elections, media coverage and political propaganda, the resolution of election disputes, election observers, the neutrality of civil servants and armed forces in elections, amendments to electoral laws and election campaigning.
After further discussion on the topics at next Monday’s meeting, the items will be taken to a national workshop for consultation, eventually culminating in a meeting between the leaders of the two parties to approve the reforms, party representatives said.
“We will discuss these issues with our parties’ leaders to gain advice on how to resolve our national issues so that we can be a harmonious nation,” CPP delegation leader Binh Chhin said.
His CNRP counterpart Son Chhay confirmed representatives from the party would attend next Monday’s meeting, saying they would press for concrete solutions.
“The CNRP has stressed that there must be an agreement according to the people’s will, and that trying to reach a solution is not just for our own benefit,” he said.
But CNRP Deputy Chief Kem Sokha, reiterated the party’s threats that representatives would halt the talks if the CPP does not seriously consider its demands about reforming the NEC.
“If the CPP has good intentions on electoral reform then there will be talks, but if we find they don’t, then the talks will be suspended,” said Kem Sokha, who is the party’s acting president.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy is on a trip to Australia to lobby for international support for CNRP demands for fresh elections.
“The CPP is using tricks to buy time, but we are pushing them. We want to see how far they can go in terms of NEC reform,” he said, saying he expected the topic would be discussed at next Monday’s meeting.
Political commentator Sok Touch said the 14-point agenda reached Monday was not a substantial step toward ending the political deadlock.
“There are no results yet,” he said.
The two sides want to appear as if they are making progress in order to please international donors and the international community who are urging them to have a dialogue, he said.
“They are trying to confuse the international community. They don’t want the international community to interfere in the internal affairs,” he said.
The NEC declared the CPP a winner in the July polls despite widespread irregularities.
The CNRP has boycotted parliament since then in protest against the official results, staging regular demonstrations that have drawn thousands of participants.
Initial talks between the two parties fell apart in September.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.