Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president Kem Sokha returned to Phnom Penh late on Monday and hit the ground running, lambasting the ruling party for blaming the recent collapse of talks on his intransigence and inviting his political foes to risk international condemnation by running the country by themselves.
Fresh from a trip to the United States – where he was drumming up support for the CNRP and speaking to US officials – Sokha said the opposition doesn’t have plans to initiate further negotiations with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, quashing any lingering hopes that a deal in the offing earlier this month could be salvaged.
“We do not have any problem. If the Cambodian People’s Party says that it does not want to negotiate, let the Cambodian People’s Party lead the country entirely through a single party, contrary to the constitution, so the international community will apply pressure and keep [Cambodia] isolated,” Sokha said. “The [CPP] does not have anything more to say . . . because it does not have any intention to reform.”
Before the New Year holiday, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen had reportedly agreed on a number of aspects of reform, including the overhaul of the National Election Committee and an early election in February 2018.
Nothing happened. Hun Sen said Sokha had obstructed the brokering of the deal, a claim Rainsy later denied, along with the terms of the very negotiations that failed. With Sokha and Rainsy abroad during the fallout (Rainsy is expected back from Europe today), and CPP leaders content to go it alone, the once-imminent deal appeared to wobble off the table and crash to the floor.
As Sokha reiterated yesterday, the CNRP is holding out for, among other things, the reformation of the CPP-stacked National Election Committee, and an election that would be held well before 2018.
Cheam Yeap, senior lawmaker in the CPP, said that the door is still open for the opposition, but if Sokha wants the ruling party to lead the country, they are happy to take him up on the suggestion.
“[If] Kem Sokha lets us lead alone and Kem Sokha does not join us, go ahead. No problem, the Cambodian People’s Party can carry out [the government’s business], according to the constitution, according to the King.”
Yeap added that Sokha cannot say that the international community would align itself against the CPP, since the ruling party is recognised by “every country”.
Independent political analyst Kem Ley lamented the nature of the political discourse, suggesting it resembles a one-party state.
“Cambodia has treaties and diplomatic ties. It cannot be like this. If it were an individual country of the prime minister and the party president, we can say this, but if the country belongs to the people and civil society too, [the leaders] cannot act like this,” Ley said.