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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CNRP, take your seats: King

King Norodom Sihamoni waves at Phnom Penh International Airport last week
King Norodom Sihamoni waves at Phnom Penh International Airport last week. Yesterday, the King urged elected opposition lawmakers-elect to attend the opening session of the National Assembly. HENG CHIVOAN

CNRP, take your seats: King

As King Norodom Sihamoni yesterday urged opposition lawmakers-elect to attend the opening session of the National Assembly on Monday, civil society groups said they would appeal to the Royal Palace to allow more time for the parties to negotiate.

The Cambodian People’s Party and Cambodia National Rescue Party have had two face-to-face meetings this week in an attempt to find common ground as the deadline to form a government approaches.

The first meeting led to a joint statement promising unspecified reforms to the electoral process, while the second yielded no such statement, with parties agreeing to internal deliberations before another meeting.

The opposition has so far maintained that a boycott of parliament come Monday is a likely possibility.

“I would like to invite his/her excellencies to join the opening session of the National Assembly in order to express unification and national unity,” the letter sent from the King to the CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers yesterday reads.

Party spokesman Yim Sovann confirmed his party’s lawmakers-elect had received the King’s letters, but said whether they decided to go through with a boycott would depend “on the will of the people”.

“Whether to attend the first session of the National Assembly or not depends on the will of the people [our supporters], and, so far, [they] have told us to boycott the [assembly] unless justice is found for them,” he said.

“We are waiting to see what happens in the next few days [for what decision the people will make].”

Following the 2008 election, the Sam Rainsy Party pledged a boycott of the National Assembly right up until the night before it was due to be inaugurated, when an 11th-hour agreement was struck with the ruling party.

Political analyst Chea Vannath said yesterday that a late agreement was on the cards, as the opposition would be unlikely to boycott parliament and be accused of disrespecting the Cambodian monarchy.

CPP lawmaker and de facto spokesman Cheam Yeap reiterated that his party can lawfully claim the opposition’s seats if the CNRP fails to attend the National Assembly on Monday – a prospect that has been refuted by legal analysts and opposition party leaders.

He added, however, that party leaders had pledged to another meeting before the Monday deadline.

With that in mind, a closed-door meeting between opposition leaders and representatives from more than 20 civil society groups was held yesterday to debate solutions to the post-election impasse, Sovann and NGO representatives confirmed.

“It was an informal meeting. They requested we provide recommendations,” Comfrel director Koul Panha said.

Hang Puthea, executive director of election watchdog Nicfec, and Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, both told the Post that more than 40 civil society groups would call on the King to delay convening parliament to allow further negotiations.

“We are calling on other institutions that have the same idea as our NGOs to join us in writing [to the King] to request a delay … [so we can have] national unity first,” Puthea said. According to Virak, the National Assembly deadline has been misinterpreted.

“We think that there is still time.… There is no hurry.… Sixty days [to form the National Assembly] refers to 60 days after the release of official results not [simply 60 days] after the election,” he said.

The civil society groups also proposed their own committee to investigate the election in lieu of the joint independent committee that has long been requested by the CNRP and that analysts say is now a virtual impossibility.

The coalition of election watchdogs that met with the CNRP yesterday – known as the Situation Room – will ask both parties to endorse their committee, Puthea said.

“If [the CPP and CNRP] cannot form a joint independent committee, civil society can form our own committee.… We will ask [the National Election Committee] to open safety packages, and we will work transparently,” he said.

In a vague answer yesterday as to whether the CNRP would respond positively to such a proposal, spokesman Sovann said that civil society groups had offered many recommendations to find a solution to the political deadlock.

“Civil society, they have their ideas, and what they want to do [is up to them]. The National Rescue Party [will do] what is good for the nation, what is in the interest of citizens and what provides justice for voters,” he said.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak, who attended the meeting yesterday, declined to give details of what was discussed but said the Situation Room had plans to hold a similar meeting with the CPP.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH AND SHANE WORRELL

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