Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said that he made “tentative” plans with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday to appear before King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday to sign a deal ending the CNRP’s boycott of its 55 National Assembly seats.
Government and CPP officials said they could not confirm if such a meeting is planned.
Mr. Rainsy said an extended phone conversation with Mr. Hun Sen in the morning had led to an agreement on the reform of the National Election Committee (NEC). Friday’s meeting before King Sihamoni will go ahead if an agreement on the date for the next national election is struck today, he said.
“We are moving closer,” Mr. Rainsy said by telephone. “One point remains, the date of the new election. We haven’t ironed out all the differences yet.”
“There is a meeting tentatively scheduled for Friday,” he said.
“Hun Sen told me that the King has to receive credentials from some ambassadors [today] and then we move into Khmer New Year, so Friday will be a good day.”
“After the Khmer New Year, we will work together, the two parties at the National Assembly to implement the agreement,” Mr. Rainsy explained.
The opposition leader said it would be “a matter of days or at most a week” after the Khmer Year that the parties will meet in the National Assembly to implement the agreement by jointly amending the Constitution.
The Constitution would be changed to recognize the independence and political neutrality of the NEC, which may be a separate and new entity from the current body, Mr. Rainsy said.
Constitutional amendments require the support of two-thirds, or 82, of the lawmakers in the 123-seat National Assembly. The CPP has 68 lawmakers to the CNRP’s 55.
The opposition leader said that he had conceded to Mr. Hun Sen’s demand that members of the election committee, which is currently dominated by the CPP, be selected by “practical consensus” of the two parties in the National Assembly.
The CNRP, which has been boycotting its seats in the National Assembly since it was convened in September, had been demanding that NEC members be appointed by a two-thirds majority of the country’s 123 lawmakers.
The opposition party says the July 28 nation election was marred by widespread irregularities and fraud under the purview of the CPP-controlled NEC.
“Hun Sen said a consensus is better than two-thirds,” Mr. Rainsy explained.
“It means the composition of the NEC will be determined by agreement of the two parties. This is OK. But we need a further compromise from the CPP. If they change the date of the next election too little, it will not be acceptable.”
Mr. Rainsy said Tuesday that the CPP had agreed in principle to an early national election in exchange for an end to the boycott, but said the ruling party was pushing for a date as close as possible to the one currently scheduled for July 2018.
Sik Bunhok, a CPP lawmaker who was one of six delegates in failed election reform talks with the CNRP last month, said on Tuesday that the election could be held in January or February 2018 to make it easier for farmers to vote.
He said it was simply not possible for an election to be held any earlier.
On Wednesday, Mr. Bunhok said he did not know if Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Hun Sen were nearing a deal. But he said Mr. Rainsy’s claim that the two could appear before the King on Friday was tenable.
“That was the past plan. When they reach an agreement, they visit the King,” Mr. Bunhok said. “If things still remain [unresolved], however, it won’t be time yet.”
Eang Sophalleth, Mr. Hun Sen’s personal assistant, said he did not know if the prime minister and Mr. Rainsy had neared such an agreement Wednesday.
“I don’t know anything about that, I have to apologize,” he said.
Mr. Sophalleth referred questions to the Interior Ministry.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to comment.
Mr. Hun Sen said in a speech on Monday that only a single sticking point remained in negotiations with Mr. Rainsy. He said he “signed off on the issue already” and that the two leaders could sign a deal in front of the King before Khmer New Year.
In the same speech, he also threatened that Mr. Rainsy could be arrested before the new year and warned the opposition leader that he might have to celebrate the holiday in Prey Sar prison.
Mr. Rainsy said that in their phone call Wednesday, Mr. Hun Sen had agreed to move the next commune council elections from July 2017 to February 2017.
“It has moved forward five months to make it take place in the dry season, after farmers have completed harvest,” Mr. Rainsy said.
He declined to comment when asked if he would agree to a January 2018 national election, saying that he did not want to sabotage today’s talks.
“I don’t want to elaborate, so long as the agreement is not reached,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)
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