The cabinet chief of CPP Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng has blamed internal strife within the opposition CNRP for stalled negotiations that might break the present political impasse that has led the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers-elect to boycott parliament.
The CNRP and ruling CPP suspended top-level negotiations days before the CPP convened the new National Assembly without the opposition lawmakers on September 23 and have not resumed official dialogue since.
In a statement issued Saturday, Mr. Kheng’s cabinet chief, Khieu Sopheak, who is also the Interior Ministry spokesman, blamed the stalled talks on the opposition because its leaders were making conflicting demands.
“His Excellency [CNRP president] Sam Rainsy called His Excellency Sar Kheng by phone and clarified that the CNRP dropped its demands for presidency of the National Assembly, but wants [equal] distribution of the 12 permanent committee members of the Assembly,” Lieutenant General Sopheak said in the statement.
The permanent committee consists of the chairpersons of the Assembly’s nine standing committees, the Assembly’s president and its two vice presidents.
“By contrast,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak’s statement adds, “His Excellency [CNRP vice president] Kem Sokha and His Excellency [CNRP spokesman] Yim Sovann clarified that the CNRP still demands the presidency of the Assembly.”
The statement does not explain when any of the opposition officials made these alleged, conflicting demands. Lt. Gen. Sopheak urges the CNRP leaders to reach a consensus among themselves before “fruitful” talks with the CPP could resume.
Contacted on Sunday, Lt. Gen. Sopheak said the CNRP president and vice president had also not agreed on splitting the permanent committee down the middle, but added that the option was in any case unacceptable to the CPP because it would likely lead to a good deal of deadlock.
“For example, if the Assembly wants to schedule a meeting and there is disagreement from the CNRP’s committee members the meeting will get stuck,” he said, explaining that the 12-member committee needs to be split seven members for the CPP and five for the CNRP, as parity of six members each could only mean deadlock because neither of the parties would have a controlling vote.
Mr. Rainsy was abroad and could not immediately be reached for comment, while Mr. Sokha declined to comment. CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, however, denied the claim.
“That is not the case. They are trying to say something that is not true,” he said.
Asked if the presidency of the Assembly was presently a demand of the opposition’s, Mr. Chhay replied, “this can be discussed.”
What the CNRP wanted most, he said, was an even split of the permanent committee “to assure the opposition has a serious role to play.”
Mr. Chhay in turn accused the CPP of simply trying to split the opposition with its claims of discord.
“It’s the same old trick to make the public think we have some problems in the party,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)