Officials from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's party and the opposition will meet next week to discuss prospects of implementing election reforms, a senior government minister said Friday, following accusations of fraud and other irregularities in recent polls that led to an opposition parliament boycott.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the talks between the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) would be held on Nov. 5, the first between the two sides since a meeting in September collapsed as they sought to break a political deadlock following the July 28 elections.
Unlike the previous meeting, the talks next week will not involve Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy.
Sar Kheng said five senior officials from each party would participate in the talks to be held at the building of the National Assembly, the country's parliament.
Still, the talks are expected to be significant as they come following a statement by the CNRP a day earlier that it is prepared to hold negotiations with the CPP without any preconditions.
The CNRP's move was a shift from an earlier position that any talks must be conditional and that the government accept three key demands, including a proposal for the establishment of an independent committee to investigate election irregularities.
Sar Kheng said the upcoming meeting will be focused on the “national election process reform,” assuring that it would be result-oriented.
“We will make sure that we will have some results, that this is not just a show to the public to prove that we are willing [to resolve the issues],” Sar Kheng told RFA's Khmer Service. “We must make sure that the meeting’s result will [help] move forward [the process].”
CNRP has suggested that the meeting be opened to the public, but Sar Kheng said that the media and nongovernmental organizations are particularly not welcomed.
CNRP to push for polls probe
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann confirmed that the party would participate in the talks but said it has not made public the list of officials who will attend.
He said that the opposition party will continue to push for the establishment of an independent committee to investigate election irregularities and two other demands—seeking the resignation of all members of the National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the country’s polls, and implementing recommendations from U.N. experts and NGOs on electoral and other reforms.
Yim Sovann did not elaborate.
It is also unclear whether the CPP is continuing to insist that CNRP members elected to the National Assembly based on the official election results must be sworn in as lawmakers before any negotiations takes place.
Election watchdog groups meanwhile say any reform of the NEC is key to holding free and fair elections, suggesting that the process must begin with a total revamp of the panel membership.
"Nongovernmental organizations agree that the NEC membership must be revamped, because in every election so far there have been problems," Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) Director Hang Puthea said.
He said the NEC also faces problems in terms of interpretation of the election laws.
In a move aimed at highlighting government reforms, the Hun Sen administration this week decided to transfer 11 national committees and authorities under the control of the Cabinet back to ministries that take charge of activities related to those undertaken by the 11 bodies, some of which, according to sources, are redundant and foster nepotism.
A government order transferring the bodies was signed by Hun Sen on Oct. 31 and published the next day.
Cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan said the move demonstrates that the government is working for “deep reform."
“Right now, the government is a one-party government, so the government must be responsible," he said.
Social commentator Kem Lai said several government committees under the control of the Council of Ministers and ministries are redundant and need to be abolished.
He cited nepotism in at least 30 government bodies, saying they had led to a loss of public funds.
“There is no work efficiency,” he said.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.