CPP and CNRP to Discuss Electoral Reform

Senior officials from the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP will meet on Tuesday to negotiate the creation of a “mechanism” for electoral reform, according to statements released by the two parties over the weekend.

The meeting, which will be the first since the government violently suppressed a wave of opposition protests in Phnom Penh in early January, will take place at the Senate at 9 a.m. and focus on advancing a September agreement to create such a mechanism.

“In response to the statement from the CNRP…the CPP sets February 18, 2014, at 9 a.m. as the date for the meeting,” reads the statement from the ruling party, which was released Saturday, a day after the CNRP requested the renewed talks.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in December signed off on a sub-decree establishing a 10-member commission, composed mostly of members of the CPP government, to research electoral reforms. The CNRP at the time described the move as “meaningless.”

The CNRP confirmed in a statement released Sunday that it would attend the meeting on Tuesday in the hope of establishing a joint-party commission to seek out electoral reforms and to peacefully end the political deadlock between the parties.

The CNRP statement specifies two points—“the changing of the composition of the NEC [National Election Committee] and the setting of a date for a new election before the end of the mandate” as examples of electoral reforms the opposition will raise during the meeting.

The last round of formal talks between the parties, which had been set for January 4, were called off by the CNRP after government forces shot dead at least five protesting garment factory workers, injured more than 40, and jailed 23 pending trial for property destruction.

“We need to start searching for a solution to pave the way for top leaders to meet and solve the remaining problems,” senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Sunday. “But first, we need to discuss what these reforms will be…and to try somehow to make a mechanism to stop throwing accusations at each other and cursing the NEC.”

Interior Ministry Secretary of State Prum Sokha, who will lead the CPP’s delegation of three, dismissed the idea of a new national election before the one scheduled for mid-2018.

“I think if we talk about a new election before the end of the term, it would mean we nullify the result of the 28th of July, 2013, election,” he said. “How can we do that? And for what?”

Opposition chief whip Son Chhay, who will be one of the CNRP’s three representatives at the meeting, said that the CNRP delegation would head to the meeting with an open mind.

“We continue to demand an investigation and re-election, but the party’s leaders have said that this [electoral reform] is a separate issue. The CPP were trying to go ahead with reforms on their own, but they would never be able to do it without the CNRP,” Mr. Chhay said.

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