Hun Sen Says End to Deadlock Could Come by New Year

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that an end to the country’s political deadlock could come before Khmer New Year, which begins Monday, while also warning that opposition leader Sam Rainsy could be imprisoned within the week over a letter he wrote to King Norodom Sihamoni.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony at Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich, Mr. Hun Sen said that private negotiations between the CPP and CNRP have nearly resolved the political dispute between the parties.

“Now, only one point remains for the draft for negotiations,” Mr. Hun Sen told the audience of accounting graduates.

“There remains a small point, and this morning I allowed His Excellency [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng to negotiate a little and then give [me] the information.”

Mr. Hun Sen said that information about a solution to the deadlock would be leaked by one of the two parties before the Khmer New Year.

“Last evening, I signed off on the issue already,” the prime minister said of the alleged agreement. “It will leak before the New Year.”

“Sometime, there will be an agreement to go to the Royal Palace where the King will preside, and the parties can sign in front of the King’s face,” he said.

“If not, things will carry on the same. The Khmer New Year will still have traditional games…and I will play golf—I still will play golf, it won’t be an issue,” he added.

Mr. Hun Sen also raised the issue of his government’s slew of official statements, released over the weekend, threatening to take legal action against Mr. Rainsy for disrespecting King Norodom Sihamoni.

The government says it may prosecute Mr. Rainsy for a letter he sent last week to King Sihamoni seemingly contradicting his statement that the CPP-only National Assembly “represents the entire Khmer people” and appearing to rebuke him for convening and congratulating the legislative body.

The CNRP has been boycotting the National Assembly since it was convened in September, alleging that July’s election was marred by fraud.

Mr. Hun Sen said he was aware that a constitutional provision speaking of the King’s “inviolability” was not encoded in criminal law.

“Some legal experts say that Article 7 and Article 8 [of the Constitution] say that the King is inviolable, but I agree that for insulting the King, there is no law saying how long the punishment would be,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “But don’t forget, you are accused of opposing the Constitutional Council.”

The government has accused Mr. Rainsy of violating Article 36 of the Law on the Organization and Functioning of the Constitutional Council, which pertains to disrespecting decisions passed by the body and carries a prison sentence of up to 13 months.

The council in September rejected the last of the CNRP’s complaints of election irregularities, paving the way for the King to convene parliament.

Mr. Hun Sen said the arrest of Mr. Rainsy could come this week.

“Sometime, it is not clear…maybe we will file a complaint before the New Year,” Mr. Hun Sen said, appearing to issue a warning to the opposition leader.

“You might miss celebrating  Khmer New Year, but you might celebrate it in Prey Sar [prison],” he said.

The opposition leader said by telephone Monday that Mr. Kheng had, per Mr. Hun Sen’s speech, scheduled a call over negotiations with him in the morning. But he said that the call was postponed to last night.

“This morning I planned to talk with him later this afternoon,” Mr. Rainsy said. “He was busy, I was busy, so we had to find a later time.”

At 8 p.m. opposition lawmaker-elect Tioulong Saumura, Mr. Rainsy’s wife, said there had been no call. She said Son Chhay, chief whip of the CNRP, and Prum Sokha, a secretary of state for the CPP, would meet this morning.

Mr. Chhay and Mr. Sokha have held talks over the past week to arrange an agenda for a top-level meeting between Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Rainsy.

Mr. Chhay said he had last met with Prum Sokha on Saturday night but that a further meeting scheduled for Monday had also been postponed.

At the first anniversary of the founding congress of the CNRP on Monday, Mr. Rainsy delivered an animated speech in which he dismissed the government’s claims he had disrespected or insulted the King in the letter he sent on Wednesday.

“There is one party that used to curse the King and to threaten the King, to threaten to dissolve the royal regime and to dissolve the institution of the throne,” Mr. Rainsy said in an apparent reference to Mr. Hun Sen’s CPP.

In 2005, Mr. Hun Sen threatened to consider replacing the constitutional monarchy with a republican presidential system if King Sihamoni did not sign a controversial border treaty with Vietnam.

“That person who used to curse the King and insult the King…has now accused me that I look down upon the King—it is completely wrong. [To them], the back of the hand is the front of the hand…and white is black.”

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Hun Sen’s regime in Phnom Penh fought an extended low-intensity civil war with resistance forces on the Thai border led by King Sihamoni’s father, then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

“Why accuse others of being against the King when you yourself were the first to oppose the King?” Mr. Rainsy asked in an outward reference to Mr. Hun Sen.

Mr. Rainsy then repeated to the crowd at CNRP’s Phnom Penh headquarters his previous announcement that the opposition will resume mass demonstrations and marches on May 2 if no deal is struck with the government.

Mr. Rainsy said on March 31 that his party would make use of the two-week campaign period for the May 18 provincial, district and city elections to circumvent Mr. Hun Sen’s blanket ban on public political gatherings.

“Brothers and sisters, prepare yourselves for May 2. We are asking for two million people,” Mr. Rainsy told the crowd.

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns),

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