Coalition Talks Start Today

Rainsy Team Awaits Invitation to Attend

Members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Monday said they will attend coalition negotiations due to start today, but CPP leaders said the meeting was only for themselves and Funcinpec.

“We expect it will be a meeting of the two working groups,” co-Mi­nister of the Council of Minis­ters and top CPP official Sok An said by telephone Monday night.

Sam Rainsy Party members said they faxed a list of their seven-member working group Monday afternoon to King No­rodom Sihanouk and to the head of the CPP working group, Inte­rior co-Minister Sar Kheng.

Sok An said he met Sar Kheng on Monday afternoon after receiving the fax but that he had “no information” about whether members of Sam Rainsy’s party would be allowed to participate.

By Monday evening, it re­mained unclear to members of the three parties if there would even be seats for the Sam Rainsy Party at the negotiation table.

Today’s meeting will be the first of what politicians said will be many on how to iron out election complaints and assign top ministry posts for the next government. The negotiations are ex­pected to begin at 3 pm in the National Assembly and focus on how to get Wednesday’s expected meeting of the parliament to function, politicians said. Talks on forming a coalition government could take weeks, several politicians said.

Funcinpec officials said they would follow the advice of King Sihanouk, who said last week that the coalition talks should involve all three parties.

“Our stance is very clear. We not only welcome but encourage the Sam Rainsy Party to participate in the meetings as discussed in the meeting with His Majesty the King,” Funcinpec’s secretary-general, Tol Lah, said Monday. “We’d like to see the three parties work together for the sake of national reconciliation.”

Funcinpec officials Monday, however, stopped short of saying they would leave negotiations if the Sam Rainsy Party was not welcomed. But they did call the effort to prevent Sam Rainsy Party representatives from joining today’s talks a CPP ploy to divide the opposition. The CPP won 64 out of 122 seats in the National Assembly in the July 26 election, a simple majority but not enough for the two-thirds majority needed to form government. If Funcinpec (43 seats) and the Sam Rainsy Party (15 seats) re­main united and choose not to join the CPP in coalition, a government could not be formed in compliance with the current Constitution.

Funcinpec parliamentarian Ahmad Yahya said Monday that if Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party split, then the CPP will control all levers of power in the next government.

“If [Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party] are divided, they play the CPP game, and the CPP will be very happy,” Ahmad Yahya said. “But if we don’t [stay together], stop dreaming about democracy…the CPP will control all for the foreseeable future.”

The parties Monday briefly outlined their objectives for the coalition negotiations. CPP politicians reiterated that they expect their negotiators to meet with Funcin­pec counterparts to focus on getting the next government going.

“The meeting tomorrow is to organize the committees to work out solutions to the crisis. We hope for unity to solve the problem among the two major parties as dictated by the will of the people,” Defense co-Minister Tea Banh, a CPP working group mem­­­ber, said Monday.

Funcinpec has three objectives in the coalition negotiations: en­sure the National Assembly will function fairly, resolve outstanding election complaints and am­nesty requests for five Funcinpec officials and work on the formation of government, Tol Lah said, choosing not to be specific. Pre­vious­ly, Funcinpec leadership has declared they will not form a coalition government with Hun Sen as prime minister.

Sam Rainsy Party members met with Funcinpec leaders Mon­day afternoon to discuss today’s negotiations and said they would continue to support Funcinpec demands put forth in last week’s Siem Reap summit with the King.

“The principal group is Funcin­pec, not the Sam Rainsy Party. We support them,” said Meng Rita, Sam Rainsy Party’s deputy secretary-general.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders met in Bangkok on Monday in Phnom Penh. Resistance military chief Nhiek Bun Chhay told Agence France-Presse that talks with Sam Rainsy and Fun­cinpec Presi­dent Prince No­rodom Rana­riddh were to find solutions before today’s talks.

“There are still some problems and we need to work out the an­swers,” he said.

The prince and Sam Rainsy flew to Bangkok on Friday after a B-40 rocket attack on a convoy of new parliamentarians killed one bystander on Thursday in Siem Reap town.

Prince Ranariddh may return to Phnom Penh today, Fun­cinpec officials said. Sam Rainsy Party officials did not know when their leader would return.

CPP working group member Chem Snguon is also due back to­day in time for the negotiations. The elderly Minister of Justice is in Vietnam to visit his sick wife, a family member who answered his phone Monday said.

The 122-member parliament, which was sworn in Thursday in Siem Reap, is expected to begin work on Wed­nesday. Today’s meetings are ex­pected to set a preliminary agenda for on­going coalition talks and outline procedures to be followed at Wed­nesday’s National Assem­bly meeting. The parliament will elect its own leaders and carry out business while negotiations about the next government continue, politicians have said.

Last month, the Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy parties threatened to boycott parliament in protest of alleged violations in the July 26 election. They staged more than a month of protests in the capital during which at least two people were killed in clashes between protesters and police.

(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)




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