King Norodom Sihamoni on Wednesday urged the CNRP to abandon its threat to boycott Monday’s scheduled opening session of the new national assembly, a call that effectively denied the opposition party’s request to the King for a delay in the inaugural meeting of parliament.
The CNRP, however, remained non-committal, insisting that it would not join the meeting unless justice was found for the nearly 3 million Cambodians who voted for them on July 28.
Fifty-five opposition lawmakers officially elected to the assembly in July wrote letters to the King on Saturday objecting to the scheduled opening of the assembly. In his response letter Wednesday, King Sihamoni said he was obligated by the Constitution, which requires the monarch to open parliament within 60 days of the last vote.
“Based on the new article 82 of the Constitution, I would like to inform all of his excellencies and her excellencies that I will preside over the opening session of the fifth mandate of the national assembly, which will be held on 23 September, 2013, as stated in the royal invitation dated on 14 September, 2013,” the King wrote.
“I would like his excellencies and her excellencies to please attend the first session of the National Assembly to show national reconciliation and unity.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy—whose party rejects the CPP’s official win in the July 28 poll and claims victory for itself—held talks on Monday and Tuesday to try and break the deadlock.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, who has joined the talks, said Wednesday that the CNRP was drafting a reply to the King to tell him that the party was still keeping the option of a boycott open.
“We still continue to respect the will of the people in requesting justice for electoral fraud, so the problem cannot be solved yet,” Mr. Chhay said.
“We are informing the King that we cannot take part…if there is no solution by the 23rd.”
At the end of their second day of closed-door talks on Tuesday, the CPP and CNRP said they were stepping back so each could consider the other’s position before returning to the negotiating table.
Mr. Chhay said the opposition was ready to start talking again and only waiting for the CPP to say when.
“Most important now is for the CPP to reconsider their position…so it’s up to them now,” he said. “It’s nothing to do with us. The CPP, they have to show their commitment to change the government.”
Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhon, also part of negotiations, said it was the CPP that was waiting on the opposition to restart the talks.
“The CNRP submitted requests to the CPP and the CPP responded already” in Tuesday’s meeting, he said. “Prime Minister Hun Sen informed the CNRP that this was the CPP’s response so that the CNRP could consider.”
The proverbial ball, he added, “is now in the CNRP’s court. We kicked the ball to them, so now we are waiting for them to kick the ball back to us.”
The two parties are not saying much about the substance of their talks.
They said they agreed to a bipartisan committee that would hash out electoral reforms. But they re- main as far apart as ever on the opposition’s demand for an investigation of the July vote independent of the National Election Committee (NEC), which is stacked with former CPP members.
Regardless of whether talks resumed by Monday or whether the opposition chose to stay away from the Assembly’s opening session, Mr. Sokhon insisted that the CPP and its 68 elected lawmakers would be there. “We don’t change our stance and will follow His Majesty, who will preside over the meeting,” he said.
The CPP claims it can form the next government without the opposition and has threatened to give CNRP seats to CPP reserve candidates if it goes through with the boycott, something analysts and lawyers—not to mention the opposition—say would not be legal.
On Tuesday, the National Assembly secretariat sent out a notice to foreign embassies, NGOs and other “high profile fig- ures” inviting them to attend Monday’s opening session.
The European Union, which like most Western delegations in Cambodia has yet to endorse the official results of July’s vote and has called for an honest investigation of the election, said it had not yet received an invitation. Other embassies did not immediately reply to request for comment on their attendance in the eventuality of a boycott.
In his latest opinion piece, U.S. Ambassador William Todd again expressed Washington’s wish to see a transparent review of the election and echoed the opposition’s call for reform of the NEC’s rules and composition. He said a functional Assembly would require both the ruling and opposition parties “to play their critical roles.” Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent lawyer monitoring the elections, said that practically King Sihamoni could still delay the opening of parliament.
Though the Constitution sets a 60-day deadline from the election, he said there were no penalties for missing the deadline. Amid urging from the CPP to open the session as soon as possible, Mr. Sam Oeun said the King was unlikely to delay, “because the King doesn’t like to say no to any request,” especially from the ruling party. He said it also put pressure on the CNRP, which would prefer not to have to turn the King’s invitation down out of deference to a beloved institution.
If they boycott, Mr. Sam Oeun said, “It’s a good thing for the CPP because they can say the CNRP don’t respect the King.”
Still, he held out some hope that the two parties would reach a compromise before it came to that since the few days left only allowed enough time for a deal drawn up in broad strokes, some- thing they would both find it easier to agree on than a detailed reform plan. Whether the opposition could turn such broad agreements into genuine reform after taking their Assembly seats, he conceded, was another matter.