Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh is scheduled to meet King Norodom Sihanouk in Siem Reap on Wednesday and may meet CPP President Chea Sim later this week—signaling the possible beginning of coalition talks, politicians and diplomats said Sunday.
“If we go to the National Assembly, it depends on the discussions with his Majesty the King and Chea Sim,” Prince Sisowath Sirirath, Cambodia’s envoy to the UN and a Funcinpec steering committee member, said Sunday.
Cambodia’s political leaders have 10 days to figure out how to form the new government before facing a constitutional crisis. On Sept 24, the mandate of the current parliament expires and there are no legal provisions for what will happen if no government is formed.
Opposition parties have threatened to boycott the new Assembly in protest of alleged election violations, and for inaction by the primary government bodies charged with reviewing the complaints.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy also is scheduled to have an audience with King Norodom Sihanouk in Siem Reap on Thursday—temporarily leaving the UN office of the personal representative to the secretary-general where he has sought protection for the past week, a Sam Rainsy party spokesman said. The agenda was “unspecified,” the spokesman said.
The prince will explain the “requests of the people” and inform the King about the current situation in the capital, said Funcinpec Secretary-General Tol Lah.
At least two people are dead and countless more injured and missing after a week of clashes pitting opposition protesters against police and CPP civilian supporters in Phnom Penh’s streets.
Diplomats and party leaders are busy smoothing the path for this week’s talks.
The UN’s director of the Asia and Pacific region for political affairs, Francesc Vendrell, arrived Saturday for “consultations,” said Lakhan Mehrotra, the UN secretary-general’s personal representative. The Thai deputy foreign minister met Sunday with the King and, separately, with Mehrotra and today is scheduled to meet separately with the leaders of the three main political parties.
Funcinpec leaders Saturday called off a planned protest, and on Sunday distributed leaflets asking people to stop protesting for the next few days.
“In order to pave the way for [the prince] to go and see the King, we decided to call off the protest,” Tol Lah said.
The King stated in a Saturday letter that the opposition should negotiate with the government.
“In a Cambodia which is not a state of law and not a fully fledged democracy, I have no other choice but to advise the weak to choose a policy that avoids misfortune for the people,” the King wrote to a US congressman, received Sunday by fax.
But Funcinpec officials Sunday said while it’s possible they will join the government before the deadline, the CPP would have to compromise because the party’s demands are non-negotiable.
The opposition is demanding the accounting of all used and unused ballots to help determine whether ballot stuffing occurred. About 9 million ballots were printed—there were only 5.4 million registered voters. The opposition also wants the adoption of a seat-allocation formula that appeared in early versions of election documents. Under the earlier formula, the CPP would not win a majority in the 122-seat Assembly.
The opposition plans to formally discuss these demands with Chea Sim—if the meeting happens, Funcinpec leaders said. Currently, no date or place for the meeting has been set, Funcinpec leaders and a representative for Chea Sim said.
Chea Sim also released a rare statement Sunday calling for party leaders to “show that they have prepared concrete plans” for possible negotiations. He also reprimanded the opposition. “Any further delay in endorsing the result of the election by certain parties…will bring pain and suffering to the innocent people of Cambodia,” Chea Sim wrote.
The statement also referred to a proposal for three-way talks between Funcinpec, CPP and the Sam Rainsy Party with the King. The CPP is ready to attend, Oum Sarith, Chea Sim’s Cabinet chief, said Sunday.
But another sticking point is Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, opposition party members said. Prince Ranariddh has said he cannot work with Hun Sen again. The two worked as co-premiers after a UN-sponsored election in 1993. Prince Ranariddh was deposed after fighting in the capital in 1997.
“Taking into account the experience of the past five years the prince does not feel he wants to work with the second prime minister again,” Prince Sirirath said.
Funcinpec leaders said Sunday that Hun Sen’s removal was not a demand but the “people’s wish.”
“The people, the demonstrations, they raise the question,” Tol Lah said. “They do not want Hun Sen to be part of the next government.”
The final decision, Tol Lah and other Funcinpec officials said, will ultimately be up to the CPP.
Prince Sirirath offered potential candidates the Funcinpec party would prefer in the leadership post. The list included Chea Sim, co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Army Chief of Staff Ke Kim Yan and CPP Secretary-General Say Chhum.
CPP spokesmen have dismissed the opposition’s requests in the past, saying that Hun Sen is their only candidate for prime minister. A government source said this weekend that the opposition is mistaken to think CPP leaders perceived as moderates would be easier to work with than Hun Sen.
“They accept the moderates because the moderates are not perceived as being as brutal,” the source said. “But the moderates are not going to share power any more than Hun Sen.”
Diplomats Sunday expressed satisfaction for the planned talks.
“Any dialogue for the time being is significant,” an Asian diplomat said.