Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that the ruling CPP has agreed to hold a fresh election before the current electoral term expires in July 2018 and that negotiations will now be held to select the election date.
However, a CPP lawmaker said the party would only agree to move up the month in which the 2018 election is held, in order to make voting more convenient for farmers.
Mr. Rainsy said that a scheduled meeting Tuesday between Son Chhay, the chief whip of the opposition, and Prum Sokha, a CPP secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, had resulted in agreements on two key points.
“We have moved forward. It’s a general agreement on broad principles like we have agreed on often,” the opposition leader said by telephone.
“The agreement is that the NEC will be a constitutionally mandated body whose independence is guaranteed in the Constitution,” he said, referring to the National Election Committee, which is currently dominated by members of the ruling CPP.
Mr. Rainsy said a number of models to ensure NEC neutrality could be adopted.
“The second point is there will be talks for the next election,” Mr. Rainsy explained. “It is also very broad—they won’t call it an early election. But we will discuss an early election. It will not be July 2018.”
“For us, it is the sooner the better. They understand that and accept to discuss the date of the next election, so the parties will talk to determine the date,” he said. “The CPP wants to keep the date as close to July 2018 as possible, and we want it as soon as possible.”
Sik Bunhok, a CPP lawmaker who was one of the party’s six delegates in cross-party talks over election reform that fell apart last month, denied that the CPP would agree to an early election before the end of the current electoral mandate.
He said CPP policy was only to change the month elections are held.
“It means the CPP agrees with the CNRP to set a new election date to make sure it will not affect people doing farming,” Mr. Bunhok said.
“In the sense that the election schedule is to hold the national election in July, we have agreed to change the date to January, February or March.”
Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the CPP and the party’s spokesman, flatly denied Mr. Rainsy’s claim of any agreement on a fresh election.
“It is not true that we are organizing a reelection,” Mr. Yeap said. “That would be like looking down on the people who support us, especially the 3.25 million who voted for the CPP and the 2.9 million who voted for the CNRP.”
“And look at Article 78 [of the Constitution],” Mr. Yeap said, referring to a stipulation that the National Assembly cannot be dissolved before the end of a term.
“It is impossible that there be a reelection. The new election will be in 2018.”
A fresh election has been one of the CNRP’s main demands in the political deadlock after the disputed July 28 national election, which the opposition party says was marred by widespread irregularities and fraud.
Both parties have previously raised the possibility of the political deadlock ending through a deal whereby the CNRP’s lawmakers would end their boycott of parliament in order to change the Constitution to reform the NEC.
The presence of the opposition’s 55 lawmakers in the 123-seat National Assembly would allow for the two-thirds majority that is required to amend the Constitution. A new election under the reformed NEC could then be held.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday hinted at an imminent end to the deadlock, saying that only one point of difference remained between the parties.
The prime minister said he had “signed off on the issue already” and that details of an end to the deadlock could leak before Khmer New Year begins on Monday.
Mr. Hun Sen also said he had given permission for Interior Minister Sar Kheng to contact Mr. Rainsy directly to work out the sticking points of the deal.
Mr. Kheng could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Attempts to reach Mr. Sokha and Mr. Chhay were also unsuccessful.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara and Khy Sovuthy)
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