Party Talks to End Assembly Boycott Hit Additional Hurdles

Mid-level negotiations between the CPP and opposition CNRP to end the country’s political deadlock hit yet another snag Thursday, this time over how to elect members to the National Election Committee (NEC), though the parties did agree to keep talking.

The talks were the second since April, when Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy appeared to be on the cusp of a deal that would end the CNRP’s boycott of the National Assembly. The opposition has refused to take its seats in protest of the national election last year, which it accuses the CPP of stealing.

In a public speech on Tuesday, Mr. Hun Sen offered to grant the CNRP one of its key demands—that the NEC, widely seen as CPP-leaning, be made independent and be enshrined in the Constitution.

But after emerging from the hour-long meeting at the Senate on Thursday, Prum Sokha, one of the CPP’s chief negotiators, blamed the CNRP for not budging from its demand that NEC members be approved by a two-thirds majority of Assembly lawmakers.

“Today’s meeting relied on a draft agreement the two parties’ top leaders negotiated on April 9 as background, because at that time all of us thought it [the negotiations] will finish and there will be no more problems,” he said. “Now that we proposed stipulating the NEC in the Constitution, they [the CNRP] asked for a change to two-thirds, but we ask for 50-plus-one.”

According to a draft of the two articles the CPP proposes be put in the Constitution, the NEC would also shrink from nine members to five, each with a five-year term.

Contacted after the meeting, CNRP lawmaker-elect Eng Chhay Eang, one of the opposition’s negotiators, confirmed that the two parties had hit another snag.

“There was not an agreement this morning because the CPP demanded 50-plus-one while the CNRP demanded two-thirds,” said Mr. Chhay Eang.

With the CPP now holding a narrow majority of the Assembly’s 123 seats, he argued, a two-thirds vote was the only way to ensure both parties approved of NEC members.

“We want the NEC to not be composed [of] any one party, but with agreement from all parties with seats in the National Assembly,” he said.

Mr. Chhay Eang said the CNRP also wanted to keep the NEC a nine-member body, with each member holding four-year terms.

On his Facebook page, Mr. Rainsy said he and Mr. Hun Sen had agreed during their phone call in April that there must be a consensus between both parties to elect new members to the NEC, and accused the CPP of backtracking.

Despite the accusations, blame and persistent stalemate, both parties left the Senate on Thursday agreeing to meet again, but neither would say when.

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