Sar Kheng Rebukes Sam Rainsy Over Negotiations

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Wednesday criticized opposition leader Sam Rainsy for departing on an international tour this week aimed at discrediting the one-party government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, saying that Mr. Rainsy should have remained in the country to negotiate a way out of the ongoing political impasse.

Speaking at a ceremony at the Ministry of Interior to congratulate security forces for their handling of July’s monthlong national election campaign and the subsequent two months of sporadic protests by the opposition, Mr. Kheng said the CNRP president’s departure did not indicate a sincere desire to come to an agreement over the political deadlock.

Riot and traffic police officers attend a commendation ceremony at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday to recognize their security efforts during July's national election and the weeks that followed the contested vote. (Siv Channa)
Riot and traffic police officers attend a commendation ceremony at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday to recognize their security efforts during July’s national election and the weeks that followed the contested vote. (Siv Channa)

“We cannot ban him—and it is his freedom—but I believe that the most effective way is not to go outside the country and make noise, but to sit at the negotiation table together, to solve the problems together and to recognize what is right,” Mr. Kheng told the 3,000 assembled police.

Mr. Rainsy on Monday night flew to London to begin a tour aimed at convincing foreign governments to cease relations with the government of Mr. Hun Sen until an agreement is reached between the CPP and CNRP—which boycotted the September 23 opening of the National Assembly—over the disputed results of the July 28 national election.

Mr. Kheng said that he had recently tried to come to an agreement with Mr. Rainsy, after he received a call from the opposition leader requesting a meeting. He said Mr. Rainsy had suggested that if the CPP “recognized” that both parties had won the election, the CNRP would participate in the convening of the National Assembly.

“We gave [Mr. Rainsy] the vice presidency of the National Assembly, four committee chairmanships and five deputy committee chairmanships,” Mr. Kheng said, adding that the opposition leader had said that the deal was not enough.

Mr. Rainsy instead said that he would be overseas for 10 days and that CPP leaders could contact CNRP vice president Kem Sokha if they wanted to offer further compromises or hold renewed talks, according to Mr. Kheng.

The CNRP has repeatedly rejected the CPP’s offer of four committee chairmanships and the Assembly vice presidency, calling for greater control of the Na­­tional Assembly before they agree to take their seats.

It would take six committee chairmanships to give the CNRP the power to deadlock the National Assembly Permanent Committee, which is comprised of the National Assembly president, the two deputy presidents of the assembly, and the assembly’s nine committee chairmen.

The Permanent Committee, which among other powers sets the agenda of the Assembly, stripped the opposition’s 29 lawmakers of their positions and parliamentary entitlements two months before the national election in July.

Opposition officials have said they do not want to join a parliament where they have no power to veto the long-ruling CPP.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said yesterday that Mr. Rainsy had been forced to seek support for the opposition overseas be­cause Mr. Hun Sen had made it clear that the CPP would not negotiate further.

“[Hun Sen] announced on state television that we all have to be sworn in [to the National Assembly] before we can talk, and that he would then not offer anything new to the opposition—and that is not acceptable,” Mr. Chhay said.

“Because of these conditions, there is no room for improvement in future discussions, and that is why our party leader has gone abroad to seek support.”

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he welcomed any indication from the ruling party that negotiations could restart, saying that the presence of the CNRP leader in the country was not needed for the CPP to restart talks.

“We have our working group inside the country to wait for any response from the CPP so if they want to negotiate, they can do so,” he said, adding that the CNRP would also now request negotiations to take place publicly.

“I would like the meeting to be public so the people can see and not put the blame on anyone…. My experience in the past is that the CPP will not do anything publicly, but this is the new culture we want to see,” he said.

Independent political analyst Chea Vannath said that if the CNRP was confident of its popular support, it should consider accepting “any partnership” with the CPP that allows joint-party governance of the country to begin.

“Just accept [a deal], and start from there,” she said. “The opposition should turn to the available internal institutions in order to strengthen those institutions—you must use an institution to strengthen it.”

“Building democratic governance takes a lot of time, it doesn’t happen overnight—you need a lot of fight, and patience and vigilance to build democracy.”

At the ceremony yesterday, Mr. Kheng also handed out “certificates of admiration”—along with 100,000 riel, or about $25 each—to the 3,000 assembled police officers for their work either side of the national election, and announced that police would begin being paid their salaries directly into personal bank accounts.

He said that giving police officers their salaries directly—in­stead of in lump sums given to police chiefs to distribute—would prevent ranking officers taking cuts of their subordinates’ pay for themselves.

“If we give the salaries as a whole, I believe both big and small [salaries get misappropriated], so it is a big reform,” Mr. Kheng said, adding that the Interior Ministry was in talks with ANZ Royal Bank to have ATMs placed in front of every provincial and city police headquarters to facilitate the payment of salaries without unauthorized deductions by superiors.

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