Planned talks to address the Kingdom’s political woes appear dead in the water after Interior Minister Sar Kheng indefinitely postponed a meeting with Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha.
The delay was revealed in a letter sent yesterday to the CNRP leader by Kheng’s chief of cabinet, Khieu Sopheak.
Somewhat ironically, the document revealed for the first time the intended date of the meeting at the National Assembly, January 25.
But that has now been scrapped, and no new date set.
Reached by phone, Sopheak said the delay was necessary after Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday flagged a rewriting of the National Assembly’s internal rules to scrap Article 48 III, which sets out protocols for dialogue between the CNRP and ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The clause gives the CNRP the parliamentary standing of the “minority” group, with a leader in the assembly who is tasked with negotiating with the prime minister.
Kem Sokha is the current “minority” leader, having assumed the title from exiled opposition president Sam Rainsy in December.
Hun Sen said the arrangement had created trouble, because the CNRP had tried to use the mechanism to push for the release of prisoners.
Sopheak yesterday echoed the premier. “If the meeting is to release the prisoners, then it’s cancelled,” he said.
Sopheak said the CPP would wait for parliament to hold a session to amend the internal regulation’s Article 48, which was agreed to by the parties in negotiations following the disputed 2013 election.
National Assembly Secretary-General Leng Peng Long said no proposal to rewrite the regulations had yet been submitted.
Sokha – who was recently pardoned from a five-month conviction related to a “prostitution” case at the behest of the prime minister – has vowed to lobby for the release of four Adhoc workers and an election official imprisoned in a case related to his own.
Following a December 7 meeting between Sokha, Hun Sen and Sar Kheng, the latter announced the case – widely considered politically motivated – could soon be resolved.
But the hoped-for resolution never materialised, and the inmates’ fate has now become unclear. Last week, CNRP president Sam Rainsy blamed the stalled proceedings on the premier, saying he was attempting to use the group as bargaining chips in a bid to split the opposition.
According to the proposed agenda for Sokha’s meeting with Kheng, the CNRP wanted to discuss the political situation, though did not mention the prisoners explicitly.
Up until the premier’s comments, the now-postponed meeting appeared on track, with the Interior Ministry issuing a letter nominating Interior Ministry Secretary of State Sak Setha and Justice Ministry Secretary of State Koeut Rith as part of a team that would meet with the opposition.
Though CNRP spokespeople could not be reached yesterday, senior lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang took to Facebook to condemn the delay, calling it “a play”.