Hun Sen, Rainsy Settle Differences in Reform Deal

Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy, in a meeting on Friday at the National Assembly, settled the remaining disputes between the CPP and CNRP over the details of the sweeping electoral reform package promised in their July 22 political deal.

A letter signed Friday by Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Rainsy, who met on the sidelines of a plenary session of parliament, says a new draft law on the organization of the National Election Committee (NEC) and an amendment to the existing election law will be passed by the end of February 2015.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks with Prime Minister Hun Sen in the chamber of the National Assembly prior to adjourning for a private meeting, in an image captured from a television screen in the Assembly's pressroom. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia )
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks with Prime Minister Hun Sen in the chamber of the National Assembly prior to adjourning for a private meeting, in an image captured from a television screen in the Assembly’s pressroom. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia )

“For the remaining disagreements in the draft law on the organization and functioning of the NEC, the top leaders of the two parties agreed to settle them completely,” the letter says.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kuoy Bunroeun, one of the CNRP’s lead negotiators in election reform talks, said the opposition party had given in to the CPP’s demand that members of the NEC be barred from holding dual citizenship.

“Regarding the matter of nationality for all members of the NEC, we are not extremely intransigent,” Mr. Bunroeun said. “It means that those who want to be candidates shall renounce other nationalities after being voted in.”

Mr. Bunroeun said that NEC members would be able to reclaim foreign citizenship once they left their position on the nine-member committee.

The new law will also require the NEC’s secretary-general and other officials to be approved by a majority vote among the nine members, according to Keut Rith, a CPP secretary of state at the Justice Ministry who also addressed reporters following the meeting.

The CPP had previously been pushing for the NEC president to be given the power to personally appoint the body’s administration.

Mr. Rith said the CNRP had also accepted the CPP’s demand that members of the NEC cannot be blood relatives of the leader or deputy leader of parties with seats in the National Assembly.

The new NEC will be composed of four members appointed by the CPP, four by the CNRP and a ninth neutral member. Mr. Rith said the party leaders had agreed on a mechanism to break any potential impasse within the electoral commission.

“In case the NEC is deadlocked and is causing obstacles to the organization of an election, the National Assembly can dissolve the NEC by a [majority] vote,” Mr. Rith said.

In a change of heart by the government, Mr. Hun Sen also agreed to let the CNRP operate an analog TV station, fulfilling a promise he made as part of the July 22 deal. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Thursday that there were no available stations for the opposition party.

The opposition TV station will be run by a private company called Cambodia Independent Media, which has already been registered with the Ministry of Commerce, and will be given a frequency that is currently unused, according to a letter from Mr. Kanharith released Friday and dated Thursday.

“Cambodian Independent Media Co., Ltd. shall come and submit an application with the Ministry of Information for a license to operate a television station in Phnom Penh municipality and relay-broadcasting in the provinces,” the letter says.

Speaking by telephone Friday, Mr. Rainsy said that Mr. Hun Sen had called him Thursday night to inform him that the Information Ministry’s insistence that the opposition start a digital TV channel, rather than an analog station, was in violation of the July deal.

“Last night at midnight, Hun Sen called me and said he recognized it is not fair and that, ‘The government will find a way for you to have the analog TV station that you can operate right now,’” Mr. Rainsy said.

Also as part of Friday’s deal, Mr. Hun Sen agreed to officially recognize Mr. Rainsy as the “minority leader” in the National Assembly, a title that the opposition leader said was “just an honorific, but at least it is symbolic.”

Mr. Rainsy said that Mr. Hun Sen had rejected a previous proposal by the CNRP to establish a shadow government similar to that of the British parliamentary system.

“The CPP rejected the…idea of the shadow parliament, this would be the British system, but the prime minister himself didn’t want hear about the shadow cabinet,” he said. “So instead we turned to the American system, where there is a minority leader.”

“So we now have this role of the opposition being recognized and the minority leader, who will be the dialogue partner of the prime minister,” Mr. Rainsy said, adding that he and Mr. Hun Sen would speak as near equals “on issues of national interest.”

Asked why the CNRP had capitulated to a number of the CPP’s demands since talks began following the July 22 deal—which said that the current CPP-dominated NEC would remain in place if a new one was not created—Mr. Rainsy said that was the nature of negotiations.

“I think originally the CPP expected more concessions from us, and we also expected more concessions from the CPP,” he said. “But finally we went half way, each of us got 50 percent of what we would like to have.”

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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