Senior officials from the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP met for the first time in three months Tuesday and agreed in principle to the creation of a joint-party commission to “prepare a framework” to implement electoral reform.
The meeting, the fourth between the parties since last year’s disputed national election, ended at midday with the leaders of the two delegations saying they had agreed to three key points to take back to party leaders for consideration.
The two parties will seek “to create a commission composed equally of the parties that have seats in the National Assembly, in order to study and prepare a framework for the reform of future elections,” a joint statement says.
The reforms aim “to guarantee free, accurate and just elections,” adds the statement, which was signed by Interior Ministry Secretary of State Prum Sokha, who led the CPP in the talks, and CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, who led the opposition.
The parties also agreed to open the commission to input from civil society groups and members of the public and to accept any “technical and financial support” from national and international organizations, according to the statement.
“The meeting between the CNRP and CPP was a success,” said Mr. Chhay after leaving the meeting. “We hope that this meeting can produce a meeting between the top party leaders, and that all issues…can be solved in [the] near future.”
The CNRP has been boycotting the 55 parliamentary seats that the National Election Committee says it won in last year’s election, citing the CPP’s refusal to allow an independent investigation into reports of fraud and irregularities.
The party in December began demanding a fresh election through a series of demonstrations in Phnom Penh. The protests were violently put down by state forces last month.
Mr. Chhay emphasized that Tuesday’s meeting did not involve talks on the CNRP ending its parliamentary boycott or securing a new election before the one scheduled for 2018. Negotiations over such issues “are the duty of the top leaders,” Mr. Chhay said, and may come in the near future.
Mr. Sokha, who said after the meeting that a date would soon be set to determine the details of the commission, said by telephone that the new body did not mean acknowledgement from the CPP that past elections had been compromised.
“It does not mean that past elections weren’t fair—before every election we must look at possible reforms,” he said.
“This committee will be composed of the parties who have parliamentary seats. These are the key words: the political parties that have seats in the National Assembly,” Mr. Sokha added.
Asked whether he thought the CNRP was such a party, Mr. Sokha replied, “I don’t want to comment on that. Ask them.”
Mr. Chhay said the wording of the joint statement had been discussed in the meeting.
“Even though we had the dispute about who won how many seats, we agreed that only two parties were elected. That sentence means the parties that were elected,” he said.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who called off talks planned for January after the government’s suppression of demonstrations, said that it was important to secure election reforms before negotiations with the CPP concerning the deadlock can push forward.
“They may decide on a date for the election, and we could be left short on time, so we must make good use of the time before that election to ensure it will be better than the last,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy said that future talks would focus on securing immediate electoral reforms that could see the CNRP take its seats in the National Assembly in the lead-up to a fresh election.
The CPP has said an early election could be possible if the CNRP takes up its National Assembly seats. The party says such an election would require a constitutional amendment passed by two-thirds of lawmakers elected last year.
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