As Anniversary of Election Nears, CNRP Softens Demands

As the anniversary of the disputed July 28 national election nears, senior opposition leaders indicated Sunday that they are prepared to drop their demands for an early election and have turned their focus primarily to securing an independent electoral commission.

CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha, who appeared alongside Prime Minister Hun Sen and Interior Minister Sar Kheng during the ceremony to inter the ashes of King Father Norodom Sihanouk on Friday, said he now hopes the stalemate will be resolved before July 28.

Mr. Sokha said both parties are now working on new formulas to govern how new members are elected to the National Election Committee (NEC), adding that the unusual public display of amity on Friday boded well for talks between the parties in coming weeks.

“We showed that the CNRP’s stance is that we need to sit down, discuss and find the middle way that guarantees the election will be free and fair, and we will solve the problem,” Mr. Sokha said.

“We are ready with our formula and if the CPP is ready with their formula, we can sit and talk and there will be [a resolution].”

The CNRP has previously demanded that a two-thirds majority of the 123-seat National Assembly be required to elect new members to the NEC, a rule that would require candidates to be supported by both parties. The demand has been repeatedly rejected outright by the CPP.

Son Chhay, who has often led the CNRP in talks with the CPP since the election, said that the opposition had also softened on its parallel demand for a new election to be held sometime before February 2018, the earliest date the CPP says it will allow the next election.

“I think the election can start later,” he said. “It very much depends on how soon we can reform the election body. It’s no use to have an early election if we do not have a reliable or acceptable system in place, so I think the CNRP are willing to give that to a later date.”

The CNRP has previously demanded a new election from dates ranging between January 2016 and July 2017. In April, CNRP President Sam Rainsy appeared to have forged an agreement with Prime Minister Hun Sen to end the opposition’s boycott of its seats.

The pair had agreed that new members of the NEC would be elected by a “consensus” of the two parties, but the deal fell apart the next day when Mr. Hun Sen refused an election before February 2018.

Mr. Sokha and Mr. Chhay said Sunday they are now awaiting contact from CPP leaders to resume talks.

CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap and Prum Sokha, an Interior Ministry secretary of state who has led the party in talks, could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Rainsy is presently in Europe and is scheduled to meet with expatriate Cambodian communities in Austria, Germany and Switzerland over the next week and then return to Cambodia before July 27, when the party will hold its first biennial national conference.

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