CPP Says It’s Ready to Talk Election Reform, CNRP Skeptical

The CPP released a statement Tuesday laying out a vague set of commitments to begin reforming the country’s electoral system, which has been blamed by election monitors for the lack of faith among voters regarding the validity of July’s national election results.

In its “Declaration on Upcoming Electoral Reforms,” the ruling party said it would propose amendments of laws and procedures, propose to create more legal frameworks around elections by drafting new laws, and “maintain its open position and study recommendations nationally and internationally pertaining to elections.”

The National Election Committee, whose composition is at the center of the opposition CNRP’s reform demands, was not mentioned in the declaration.

The statement from the CPP comes as talks to break the political impasse between the CPP and CNRP have stalled following the decision by the CPP to push ahead with convening a one-party National Assembly and voting in a new government headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Until the CPP is able to settle its dispute with the CNRP, opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said that any reform undertaken solely by the ruling party would be “meaningless for voters and the people” and said the CPP statement was meant to “trick” people into thinking the ruling party is ready for serious reform.

“If they really want to reform, they should have agreed to our proposal to find justice for the voters and also to balance the power of the assembly,” he said, referring to the CNRP’s demands for an investigation into election irregularities and outright control of the National Assembly, which they are currently boycotting.

Laura Thornton, resident director of the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute in Cambodia, said that while any steps toward electoral reform are welcome, a more concrete plan needed to be laid out before meaningful discussions can begin.

“[M]ore details are needed in the level of reforms they will initiate, because there have been specific recommendations over the last decade that are very precise,” she said.

“It would be encouraging if they could be specific about which of these recommendations they will take on board,” she added.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that the CPP statement may at least serve as a starting point for renewed negotiations, in which an overhaul of the electoral system would be at the top of the CNRP’s reform demands.

“I think the CPP should compromise in coming political negotiations. The CNRP should have enough power in National Assembly to balance the CPP and take a role to drive implementation of reform,” he said, adding that the CPP also promised electoral reform after flawed elections in 2003 and 2008.

“Promise is [fine] on paper, but move to implementation and it’s a different story,” he said.

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