Cambodia’s Ruling, Opposition Parties Debate Prospects for Fresh Talks

cambodia-talks-sept-2013.jpg Prime Minister Hun Sen (r) and opposition leader Sam Rainsy (l) shake hands after talks at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Sept. 17, 2013.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition are debating prospects of new talks aimed at ending their political deadlock three months after disputed national elections thrust the country into a crisis.

But chances of a fresh meeting between the two sides following the collapse of their September talks appear slim as opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) continues to call for an independent investigation into the July 28 polls as a precondition for ending its parliamentary boycott.  

The CPP has rejected calls for the investigation, insisting that CNRP members elected to the National Assembly—Cambodia’s parliament—based on the election’s official results must be sworn in as lawmakers before any negotiations can take place.

On Monday, Sam Rainsy, CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha, and other senior party members discussed the possibility of resuming the talks with the CPP, after wrapping up a three-day mass protest in Phnom Penh last week against the poll results declared by the government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC).

During the meeting CNRP members named three demands for the CPP to meet before opposition members agree to join parliament, spokesman Nhem Ponharith told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“The three points that the CNRP is still demanding are, first, the establishment of a committee to investigate into the election, second, reform of the NEC—which the CPP also recognizes has problems—and third, government must implement the recommendations from the U.N. and NGOs on electoral and other reforms,” he said.

Without those conditions, there can be no talks and CNRP members are not prepared to be sworn in to the National Assembly, he said.

Demands rejected

National Assembly chairman Chheang Von, a senior CPP lawmaker, rejected the demands, saying the opposition should be open to talks before setting any conditions for joining parliament.    

“The conditions they set must come out of the talks,” he told RFA, saying the CNRP members must take their seats in the National Assembly if they want to carry out reforms.

“All reforms must be done through the National Assembly,” he said.

Several rounds of talks between Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen held last month before the National Assembly convened for the first time since the elections have ended in failure.

Without any opposition lawmakers in parliament, CPP lawmakers voted unanimously to form a new government and reappoint Hun Sen—who has led Cambodia for 28 years—to another five-year term as prime minister.

'We can't accept it'

Chheang Von said that the CNRP’s current insistence on the establishment of a committee to probe the polls was a step backward since in the earlier talks Sam Rainsy had dropped that demand.

“We can’t accept it.  We won’t talk about establishing the committee,” he said.

Nor would the CPP accept the CNRP demand to carry out recommendations from U.N. and civil society groups for electoral or other reforms, unless the proposals were made through the National Assembly, he said.

“If we complied with all the recommendations, what would be the use of the National Assembly and political platforms? All we would need to do would be to implement recommendations,” he said.

In response to the CNRP call for electoral reform, he said the CPP was committed to carrying out its own “deep reforms” of the NEC, which manages the country’s polls.

Election dispute

The CNRP claims it was robbed of victory in the elections due to widespread poll irregularities, including the removal of one million voters from the electoral rolls, and has called for the NEC to reform the country’s voting process.

Official results from the NEC gave the CPP 68 National Assembly seats and the CNRP 55, but the CNRP claimed it should have won at least 63 seats.

Last week, tens of thousands of supporters joined the CNRP’s rally in Phom Penh’s Freedom Park to back calls for an independent probe into election fraud.

Demonstrators delivered petitions to the missions of the U.N. and foreign embassies in Cambodia demanding international intervention in the election crisis.

Reported by Vuthy Huot for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.


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