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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CNRP ready to negotiate over political crisis

Kem Sokha and Hun Sen shake hands at the National Assembly in 2014 after reaching an agreement to cease hostilities.
Kem Sokha and Hun Sen shake hands at the National Assembly in 2014 after reaching an agreement to cease hostilities. Heng Chivoan

CNRP ready to negotiate over political crisis

Besieged by a growing raft of legal cases widely believed politically motivated, the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party will seek a solution to Cambodia’s escalating political crisis through negotiations, its spokesman said yesterday.

CNRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said acting party president Kem Sokha wanted to arrange talks with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which critics say is using an alleged sex scandal involving Sokha to target opposition and civil society members with legally dubious charges.

“Mr acting president [Kem Sokha] has told us that he has tried to make contact to negotiate,” Sovann said, adding the party wanted to restart the so-called “culture of dialogue”.

“But I don’t know how the [CPP] has received this and whether or not they want to negotiate.”

Seven people have been charged and six – including an opposition commune chief, four staffers from rights group Adhoc and an election official – imprisoned for allegedly “bribing” Sokha’s purported mistress Khom Chandaraty to deny the alleged affair, revealed by taped phone conversations leaked anonymously to Facebook and said to feature the CNRP leader and the hairdresser speaking intimately.

Sokha and two other lawmakers have also been summonsed to face court over the scandal, despite their parliamentary immunity.

While the CPP has claimed it’s not pulling the strings, the Anti-Corruption Unit, led by Om Yentieng, a long-time confidant of Prime Minister Hun Sen, has zealously investigated the scandal.

Responding yesterday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the party had not ruled out talks, though noted they had not received an official request.

“We have not closed the door on the culture of dialogue,” Eysan. “But any such meeting must be clearly defined within the culture of dialogue so this can be solved.”

Agreed upon in 2014, the “culture of dialogue” dictated that the CPP and CNRP would cease the combative rhetoric and threats that have long characterised the Kingdom’s politics.

The agreement soon proved little more than a catchphrase, as members of the opposition again found themselves arrested and jailed in cases slammed as politically motivated.

But while past efforts to negotiate have borne little success, a political commentator, who requested anonymity, said it was in the CNRP’s long-term interests to take the high road and go back to the table.

“If the elections are still on the agenda, I don’t see how the two parties can go on without talking to each other . . . I think going back to work, preparing for the elections sends a strong signal to people who are fed up with this,” he said.

Weighing in yesterday, Soy Sopheap, director-general of Deum Ampil News Center, who has in the past claimed to work as a mediator between the parties’ leaders, suggested three lines of approach to the opposition to achieve a compromise.

Firstly, he said the party should discuss filling Sokha’s former position of National Assembly first vice president, from which he was booted amid political tension last year.

Secondly, the new vice president could reestablish the “culture of dialogue”, and finally cross-party working groups, established last year, should meet to solve “other national problems”, he said.

CNRP spokesman Sovann said the party had not discussed fielding a candidate to become the parliament’s first vice president, but was open to working with their counterparts.

Additional reporting by Shaun Turton

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