When Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy emerged from the talks that ended the opposition’s boycott of parliament on July 22, Mr. Rainsy said the party’s 55 lawmakers-elect would swear into the National Assembly the following week.
Two days ago, Mr. Rainsy said the CNRP lawmakers would take office within days.
It now appears a date for the swearing-in will not be selected until at least next week, with talks between the two parties to put the details of the deal into writing adjourned until Monday.
“I was the first to be surprised by that,” Mr. Rainsy said Tuesday of the news that the discussions had been pushed back a week.
On Monday, the two parties selected Licadho President Pung Chhiv Kek as the ninth and neutral member of a new election commission. Three bipartisan working groups tasked with hammering out details in the implementation of last week’s pact met for the first time this week.
“The first working group, on the internal rules of the National Assembly, work is complete,” Mr. Rainsy said. “That is very satisfactory.”
“For the other two working groups, it is very different and we are very surprised. The negotiators from the CPP have asked for the next meeting to be at the end of this week for the working group on the Constitution and on Monday for amendment of the election law,” he said.
“We propose to work day and night, even on the weekends. If we want to reach an agreement quickly, why wait to the end of this week or next week?”
CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap, who was one of five ruling party officials in the electoral reform working group, said that his party was simply taking a methodical approach to the legislative changes.
“We can’t just amend things without doing thorough research, as we don’t want to see other political parties boycotting the National Assembly or using other excuses to allege election fraud,” Mr. Yeap said.
“In fact, the swearing-in ceremony can be done at any time, even today, and then we can keep talking about the election reforms and amendments to the law and Constitution at the same time,” he added.
“The CNRP is only delaying swearing in and taking office.”
Interior Ministry Secretary of State Sak Setha, who was also a CPP delegate on the election reform working group, said that Tuesday’s talks lasted two hours and that both parties had decided to adjourn until Monday.
Mr. Setha said it was unreasonable to demand express negotiations to expedite the swearing in of the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers.
“For the election law, we need to take time, it’s not just a couple of days,” he said. “With the political resolution from the 22nd, we still need to discuss some major problems like the NEC and the new voter list and the autonomous budget of the NEC.”
Mr. Setha denied that the delay indicated problems.
“It’s positive. That’s why we have agreed to talk next Monday,” he said.
Under the July 22 deal, Mr. Hun Sen consented to a host of reforms to facilitate fair future elections. In exchange, the CNRP effectively legitimizes the results of last year’s disputed election by taking their allotted seats in the National Assembly.
In an apparent sign of the sudden goodwill between the two parties, Ms. Chhiv Kek was then approved by both parties this week as the tie-breaking member on a new bipartisan election body that is set to replace the CPP-dominated National Election Committee (NEC).
But the CNRP says that it wants to finalize and publicly release drafts of the changes to be made to the Constitution, the internal rules of the National Assembly and the country’s election laws before its elected lawmakers swear in.
Kuoy Bunroeun, a member of the CNRP’s standing committee and the party’s leader on the electoral reform working group, said Tuesday’s meeting had to adjourn for at least a day for the parties to consider their positions.
“Due to the scale of the work in amending the election law being very big, both working groups need to do research and find reference to present our arguments in our next meeting,” he said.
Mr. Bunroeun said that the group’s remaining tasks are to decide both on a mechanism to fix the national voter list to include the hundreds of thousands of people left unable to vote last year, and also on how the provincial and commune election committees will be composed.
CNRP lawmaker-elect Mao Monivann said the meeting on reform of the National Assembly between CPP lawmaker Cheang Vun and opposition spokesman Yem Ponhearith was heated at times, but forged a deal on an enforcement mechanism to ensure ministers appear before parliament when summoned.
“It means that National Assembly members shall have the right to summon the prime minister and other ministers to give answers at the National Assembly,” he said. “If they don’t show up within seven days as stipulated in the Constitution, more than 30 members of [the] National Assembly can write a letter of censure to the government.”
Mr. Bunroeun acknowledged that his working group on election law reform was holding up the process, with the CNRP intent on ensuring the next election is run fairly.
“The two other working groups will not take as much time as the job of amending the election law,” he said.