CNRP Wants Details Before Taking Seats

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who on Tuesday struck a deal with Prime Minister Hun Sen to end the CNRP’s boycott of the National Assembly, said on Friday the party will swear its 55 elected lawmakers into parliament on Tuesday only if details of the plan to overhaul the country’s electoral commission are hammered out beforehand.

Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Rainsy met before King Norodom Sihamoni on Thursday to set a date for the swearing-in ceremony. Mr. Rainsy said Friday that the CNRP planned to take its seats on Tuesday, but added that the parties still had to iron out details in this week’s agreement.

“If everything goes smoothly, parliament will start again on Tuesday. But from now until the 29th, we must solve the issue of the ninth member of the future NEC,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“[W]e have to agree, but it [Tuesday’s deal] didn’t specify when—before re-convening or after—so I have asked that it be before.”

Mr. Rainsy said he spoke with Interior Minister Sar Kheng about the request on Friday afternoon, and was told the CPP leaders would “consider” it.

One of the central parts of Tuesday’s deal was to amend the Constitution to make the National Election Committee (NEC) an independent body comprised of nine members, with four selected by the CPP and four by the CNRP. The appointment of the ninth and final member would be by consensus between the parties. If they can’t agree, the existing NEC will remain in place.

Mr. Rainsy said Friday that the appointment of the ninth member was an urgent matter.

“[W]e insist now that it should solve this problem. We know the consequences. If after re-convening, if there is no agreement, then the old formula will apply. It is urgent for us to see this problem solved,” he said.

The opposition leader said that he had faith that Mr. Hun Sen would be amenable to the CNRP’s demand.

“Hun Sen is shrewd and clever and he does not underestimate his adversary. He understands that he has to make us happy, he must not make us frustrated, because by making us frustrated it can backfire,” Mr. Rainsy said.

Asked why the selection of the ninth NEC member was not raised during Tuesday’s five-hour-long negotiation between CPP and CNRP leaders, Mr. Rainsy said his delegation had received “a lot of recommendations.”

“[T]he prime minister said it would be very unlikely that out of 14 million Cambodian citizens, we would not be able to find one by consensus.”

But CPP lawmaker Nhem Thavy, who sits on the National Assembly’s standing committee, said that putting the finishing touches on the agreement had to be done in parliament after the opposition lawmakers were sworn in.

“The two parties had agreed and issued a joint-statement that they would work together at the National Assembly to decide on the nine members of the NEC,” Mr. Thavy said.

“About this case, there is an agreement between the two parties, so there is nothing to change. It means that the two parties need to come and sit down together at the National Assembly to amend any laws, especially with regard to the nine members of the NEC,” he added.

“Therefore, it needs the 55 CNRP lawmakers to take [an] oath and take office at the National Assembly.”

The agreement finalized during Tuesday’s talks was hailed as the end of a political deadlock that lasted for almost a year following the national election held on July 28, 2013. The CNRP claims the NEC rigged the official results, which gave the CPP a slim victory and 68 seats in the National Assembly.

CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha said on Friday that three working groups—on amending the Constitution, National Assembly internal rules and election laws—had been established to iron out the finer details of the deal. Amending the Constitution would require a two-thirds vote in the National Assembly, meaning the CNRP lawmakers would have to swear in as members beforehand.

“When we have finished these three duties, we can join the National Assembly,” Mr. Sokha said.

“The Cambodia National Rescue Party’s focus is most importantly on the election. If we don’t have good reforms on the election process, our country will not be stable and after elections, people will be in dispute with each other again.”

Laura Thornton, country director of the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute, said via email that she was pleased to see the CNRP trying to finalize details in the agreement before taking their seats.

“I’m encouraged to hear that more aspects of this deal are being ironed out before sitting in the National Assembly, as on some key issues an agreement to ‘sit first, talk later’ is risky given past experiences,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)

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