Amid Global Applause for Pact, a Sense of Betrayal

As the international community on Wednesday lauded the opposition CNRP’s agreement with the ruling CPP to take its seats in the National Assembly, some of the opposition’s most outspoken allies talked of treachery from a party that months ago was demanding a re-election or the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The opposition CNRP’s 55 lawmakers-elect ended their nearly yearlong boycott of parliament in exchange for a promised overhaul of the electoral commission it blames for rigging the July 2013 election in favor of the CPP.

The U.N. human rights office was among numerous international organizations and foreign countries that congratulated the parties on their agreement.

“The two parties have finally found common ground, in the best interests of the Cambodian people,” U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi said in a statement. “They deserve our congratulations, and the Cambodian people to enjoy a moment of celebration.”

But many of the people who had joined the CNRP in months of demonstrations against Mr. Hun Sen’s government were branding the agreement as a betrayal.

“The CNRP are trying to fulfill party interests, not the people’s interest,” said But Buntenh, a monk who heads the Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice, which has turned out in force at opposition demonstrations over the past year.

“The CNRP are liars and cheaters. We do not support them anymore,” he said.

“They said to the people that they would not negotiate and enter the National Assembly,” he added. “They said they would fight for new elections.”

Instead, the CNRP agreed to take its seats with promises from the CPP that the electoral commission will be made a constitutional body composed of four members of each party along with a ninth member selected by consensus.

If the parties can’t agree on the ninth member, the current National Election Committee will remain in place.

The opposition will also chair half of the assembly’s 10 committees, including the new anti-corruption committee, with CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha taking the position of first deputy president of the National Assembly.

At a coffee shop behind the Royal Palace, former primary school teacher Prom Sothy said Wednesday the CNRP was bullied into taking the deal by the long-ruling CPP.

“They arrested its lawmakers as their hostages,” said Mr. Sothy, who had hoped the CNRP would continue its boycott despite the imprisonment last week of eight CNRP officials following a violent protest on July 15.

“This negotiation was not transparent or fair,” he said.

Mr. Sothy, 61, said now that the CNRP has struck an agreement, the CPP would continue with its usual style of governance, which he described as “corruption and deforestation.”

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy addressed the concerns of his more critical supporters in a speech posted Wednesday to his Facebook page.

“Before making any judgment or condemnation, please compatriots wait and see what results we get. Therefore we can judge whether we were right or wrong,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“Most important is the change of the NEC and it could not happen unless we change the law through the National Assembly to amend the Constitution,” he said.

Chea Savorn, a former police officer, said he believed the CNRP had taken a step forward in its efforts to become a check on the power of the CPP government.

“At least the CNRP has some power to put pressure on the CPP. Before, they couldn’t do anything,” he said. “At least the CPP cannot do whatever it wants to as before.”

But by allowing the CPP to either agree with the CNRP on a ninth member or stick with the status quo, the agreement guaranteed nothing, cautioned Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

“The CPP does not trust anybody that is nonpartisan,” Mr. Panha said. “There is no way they recruit an independent person. It will not happen. The CPP will reject.”

Tep Vanny, a prominent land rights activist who was often a featured speaker at opposition demonstrations during their peak in the final months of 2013, said she was disheartened by the CNRP’s many concessions leading up to this week’s deal.

“We are very disappointed with them since the CNRP was the last hope for us to improve our country and protect our people from the CPP,” she said.

“But now our hope is eroding.”

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