The three main political parties on Saturday agreed during a seven-hour meeting with King Norodom Sihanouk to convene the National Assembly later this month. Meanwhile Prime Minister Hun Sen berated the Alliance of Democrats for delaying the formation of a new government.
During the meeting, which was held at the Royal Palace and later televised on TVK, representatives of the three parties said they would attend an official Assembly meeting chaired by CPP parliamentary dean, Chea Soth, after Dec 15. They did not set a firm date.
Though all 123 newly elected parliamentarians were sworn in on Oct 4, they have not officially opened the legislature, nor have the three parties agreed on how it should function.
The ongoing dispute has postponed the formation of the new government for more than four months. Despite having won the July national election, the CPP is nine Assembly seats short of forming a government alone.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that Chea Soth would open the Assembly next week after Hun Sen returns from a trip to Japan, where the premier will try to secure aid money for Cambodia.
The premier is scheduled to leave Tuesday and return Saturday.
The Assembly session will likely be purely ceremonial as the parties have not yet agreed on how to vote on the parliamentary leadership. Khieu Kanharith said that after the session is held, the parties would work out the government and legislative positions and discuss the national policy.
“We want to go step by step and not move too fast,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Saturday’s meeting, intended to be a working session to form the new government, turned into hours of debate and finger-pointing between the CPP and Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party’s Alliance of Democrats.
Shown on television, opposition leader Sam Rainsy charged that years of CPP leadership have led to mass illegal immigration, an unjust court system, a faulty National Election Committee, as well as rampant corruption and illegal logging.
“There should be a guarantee that the next government should be clean. So, there must be a law to form a committee on anti-corruption,” he told participants at the meeting.
Responding to the opposition leader’s comments, CPP Minister of Cabinet Sok An retorted that Sam Rainsy himself was entangled in corruption while he was finance minister in 1995. He added that Sam Rainsy’s comments were “destructive criticism” and blamed the Alliance for creating an “artificial deadlock.”
Sok An pointed out that during an earlier meeting with the King on Nov 5, the Alliance had agreed to Hun Sen’s candidacy for prime minister. But, he said, the Alliance has lost the CPP’s trust since it later backtracked and said it could not guarantee Hun Sen would receive the approval of two-thirds of the parliamentarians required to remain prime minister.
“Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party always avoid to accept the Nov 5 agreement,” Sok An said.
King Sihanouk, who chaired the meeting, did not cut off any of the speakers and was seen laughing at some of their criticism of each other.
Meanwhile on Saturday morning, Hun Sen was seen on television at a canal inauguration in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district, blasting the Alliance and repeating his determination to remain in power.
Shown on all local television stations, Hun Sen addressed the Alliance, saying: “You have already abused the Constitution and the [Nov 5] agreement so you are not afraid of abusing further.”
He added: “I will always stay because I have stayed since 1979 till now. No one can replace Hun Sen, including the CPP” because the party’s central committee has already chosen him as their candidate for prime minister.
Hun Sen also warned the Alliance not to use forces to topple him.
He reminded the public that in 1995, Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh was stripped of parliamentary immunity and had promised not to enter politics again, after the government discovered Prince Sirivudh had wanted to kill him. “Prince Sirivudh swore in front of the King [that he would not rejoin politics] but finally, he joins politics,” Hun Sen said, adding that the CPP did not obstruct his return.
“When we respect his rights, he has to respect us back,” he said, warning Prince Sirivudh not to be so tough against him.
Prince Sirivudh on Sunday declined to comment on Hun Sen’s statements.
Saturday’s televised tripartite meeting was received with mixed reaction by some Phnom Penh citizens interviewed the following day.
Sok Chen, a 28 year-old motorbike taxi driver, said: “The politicians we cannot trust. In 1998, Funcinpec promised they would get rid of illegal immigrants…and the CPP promised developments but until now, nothing is realized. Things are still the same.”
Chen Jian Hua, a 49-year-old shoe vendor, said CPP representatives Sok An and Sar Kheng, co-minister of Interior, raised good points at the meeting, but in the end, she said she was swayed by Sam Rainsy’s arguments.
“What Sar Kheng and Sok An said is based on the law, but that’s not actually implemented,” she said. “I support Sam Rainsy because what he raised at the meeting about illegal immigration, protecting our territory, and corruption, these are the things I am interested about.”
Chin Thorn, a 60-year-old jack fruit seller, said she, too, was impressed by the opposition leader’s performance at the meeting.
“The main thing is, I believe in Sam Rainsy. Currently, he’s a good man, but I can’t assume he will be when he joins the government,” she said.