Parties Agree to Let UN Observe Election Investigation

The CPP and opposition CNRP agreed during a meeting at the National Assembly on Friday that the U.N. can observe an investigation into irregularities in last month’s national election, but continued to disagree that the National Election Committee (NEC) lead the investigation.

After the two parties first attempted to set up a special committee on August 3 at the NEC’s headquarters, the opposition backed out when CNRP president Sam Rainsy sent a letter to NEC President Im Suosdey saying his party could not accept an investigation unless it is led by the U.N.

On Friday, the CNRP changed its position, instead saying that it would agree to the CPP’s demand that the U.N. could only act as an observer to the committee.

“This morning between 9 and 11 a.m., the delegations from the two parties, the CNRP and CPP, met at the National Assembly,” said CNRP spokesman Yim So­vann. “We went to form a special committee, and we came to the conclusion [that] the delegation from the two parties will discuss with their top leaders about who will be a member of the special committee and we agreed that the U.N. will be an observer.”

A statement released by the opposition after the meeting said CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, lawmaker candidate for Kompong Cham province Kuy Bunroeun and CNRP candidate for Prey Veng province Nhem Ponhearith all attended the meeting.

The CPP sent senior lawmaker Cheam Yeap, steering committee member Ouk Kemhan, and Prum Sokha, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior.

“[The six representatives] agreed to plan to recruit nongovernmental organizations that are experts and have experience with election affairs to join a technical group with representatives of the U.N. and local and international organizations playing the role of observers,” the statement says.

Mr. Yeap confirmed Friday’s meeting, and said the goal was to make sure that both parties understood each other’s requirements for forming an investigating committee into irregularities during the July 28 poll.

He said that Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Senate Vice President Say Chhum would also be among the CPP members chosen to negotiate with the opposition.

“But if they can’t agree, as a last resort, Samdech Hun Sen will meet with the CNRP directly if necessary,” he said.

Mr. Yeap added that since U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had sent a letter saying that the national election had been conducted peacefully, the U.N. did not need to participate directly in any investigation of election irregularities.

“The U.N. can come as observers, but they cannot lead the investigation,” Mr. Yeap said, declining to elaborate further on the talks held with the opposition.

While the CPP claims to have won 68 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the opposition claims, based upon its own preliminary tally of the vote, that it won a majority in Parliament with 63 seats.

Despite allowing the U.N. to monitor an investigation, the CNRP Friday said they would only go ahead with an inquiry if those in charge were totally independent.

Mr. Chhay, who led the opposition representatives in Friday’s meeting, said that the talks were held to find a more effective way to tackle the problem of irregularities, but that if a committee is formed, it should not involve the NEC.

“If you allow the NEC to investigate their own crimes, there will not be any solution,” he said.

“We agreed that…we need to have a group of experts who can come from any non-governmental organizations which have been working on the issue of elections,” Mr. Chhay said, adding that the CPP representatives said they could not make an immediate decision.

“They have to go check with the leader to see which NGO group or experts will be allowed on the investigation team,” he added.

After meeting with 10 local NGOs Friday at the Interior Ministry, Mr. Kheng said the CPP and CNRP had been in contact on Thursday night to discuss creating a committee to investigate election irregularities.

“I cannot predict the outcome yet,” he said, “but at least we are sitting down to work together.”

He also stood by the CPP’s stance that the U.N. would not be able to participate in an investigating committee, but could observe.

“As for the request of the Cambodia National Rescue Party for appointing the U.N. as an arbitrator, I think it is impossible,” Mr. Kheng said, adding, “If they wish to come for observation, it will be fine since the NEC is open about this.”

On Monday, Mr. Kheng had warned of “trouble” if the CNRP did not agree to talks with the CPP over election irregularities.

Although the CNRP’s first choice would be to have the U.N. lead the investigation, Mr. Chhay said concessions had to be made so both parties can move forward.

“Since the CPP rejected the role of the U.N. strongly, we don’t want to seem that we are blocking the process,” he said. “We just want to sincerely display our willingness to compromise for finding a solution to the problem.”

Philip Sen, communications officer for the U.N. in Cambodia, said that the U.N. was not aware of the parties’ decision to allow the U.N. to act as an observer.

CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said that he did not know details of the meeting because he was not present, but said that according to the Constitution, “the investigating committee would have to involve the NEC.”

The NEC released its own statement on Friday calling for the CPP and CNRP to create a committee to investigate the reports of election irregularities that the NEC has received.

“The National Election Committee invites the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party to meet to create a special committee to discuss reports of election day irregularities received by the [NEC] between August 2 and August 6,” the statement says.

“The [NEC] believes that it would benefit both parties to create this committee soon to solve the issue of irregularities that the [NEC] has received,” it adds.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha on Friday said that he was not aware of the meeting held at the National Assembly between the ruling party and the opposition.

“Today we also issued a statement appealing to the two parties to come to us to create a special committee but so far we haven’t heard anything from them,” he said.

“So I am not sure whether there are going to be two separate committees created to investigate the alleged irregularities or whether or not [the parties’] committee will involve the NEC.”

Speaking to reporters Friday at the Interior Ministry where he met with Mr. Kheng, Thun Saray, president of rights group Adhoc, stressed the importance of quickly creating an investigating committee that will probe election complaints and come to a conclusion that all parties can accept.

“We call on the two parties to come together to agree on a joint committee…for a thorough investigation so that possible violence and social chaos can be avoided,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Janelle Kohnert)

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