Sam Rainsy to Call Sar Kheng Over Negotiations

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy plans to call CPP Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday to discuss restarting negotiations between the two parties.

Mr. Rainsy said that he hoped Mr. Kheng would clarify whether the CPP is unconditionally open to further negotiations, or if the party is still demanding that the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers-elect swear in as National Assembly members—fully legitimizing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government—before talks are held.

“I will call Sar Kheng because this is the mechanism to meet each other,” Mr. Rainsy said, add­ing that the call would be made either before or after a CNRP press conference scheduled for 9 a.m.

“We want to hear directly from the mouth of the CPP, is there a precondition? It is speculation and interpretation that there has been some change [in the CPP’s stance],” he said.

“We have expressed our point of view strongly,” Mr. Rainsy said, referring to a statement released by the CNRP on Wednesday, in which the opposition says it will continue to push for an investigation of the disputed July ballot and an overhaul of the electoral system, including the resignation of the nine-member National Election Committee (NEC).

“We must first address the legitimacy problem of the recent elections before considering joining the National Assembly and recognizing the legitimacy of any government,” the CNRP said in its statement.

CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap, the head of the National Assembly’s finance committee, said on Tuesday that the ruling party would hold talks with CNRP leaders only after they were sworn in as lawmakers.

Contacted Wednesday, Mr. Yeap denied that the CPP had set conditions for future negotiations.

“We never set conditions but the CNRP itself demands too much,” he said. “The CNRP got the minority [of seats] in the National Assembly, so they better be flexible by accepting what we granted them: concessions for a position as deputy president at the National Assembly, four chairmanships of four committees and five deputy chairmen for five committees.”

That same offer was made by the CPP during the last round of failed negotiations on September 15 and 16—when the CPP also committed in principle to electoral reform—but was not accepted by the CNRP.

The preconditions set by both parties make the prospects for fruitful talks dim, said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel).

“If [party leaders] put conditions [on meeting for further talks], then it becomes a difficult situation,” he said.

“They should not say ‘you have to legitimate my government first and then we will talk,’ or ‘you have to solve this problem first and then come to talk,’ they should just talk and keep talking. That is the only way they can compromise and get a result,” Mr. Panha said.

Thun Saray, the head of local rights group Adhoc and chairman of Comfrel, also said the situation appeared bleak.

“I’m not optimistic about [negotiations] because it seems that the position of the two sides is becoming farther and farther apart,” Mr. Saray said.

“Especially the opposition…they don’t talk any more about sharing power in the National Assembly and [instead] they talk about reform of the NEC and reform of the process of elections in general,” he said, adding that the CPP’s behavior after the election was also making it difficult for the CNRP to believe their promises of reform.

“They [CPP leaders] still behave in an old style, not in a new style. They talk about changing or reforming the country, but that contradicts their behavior. They still accuse those who want reform of being opposed to them. That means they are still only looking out for the interests of their own party,” he said.

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