The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has agreed to hold formal talks on Tuesday with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The announcement comes more than a month after scheduled negotiations were abandoned in early January after security forces targeted striking garment workers and opposition supporters in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district and at Freedom Park.
According to an official announcement released by the CPP on Saturday, its delegation will be led by secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior Prum Sokha, while the CNRP will be headed by party whip Son Chhay.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith said yesterday that preconditions for the talks had already been negotiated with the CPP.
Backroom negotiations between the two sides, facilitated by Deputy Prime Minister Nhek Bun Chhay, began the day after security forces cleared protesters from Freedom Park.
“I think that the Cambodian People’s Party has also raised the possibility of holding an early election, provided that we join the National Assembly,” Ponharith said yesterday. “We will join parliament. [But] we must have a pre-agreement presided over by the King.”
Ponharith added that the accord must also involve civil society groups and meet international standards.
CNRP president Sam Rainsy told hundreds of supporters in Preah Sihanouk province yesterday that the negotiations between the CPP and CNRP on Tuesday will focus on electoral reform.
“If we do not reform the electoral system, there will be more election fraud, and if there is more election fraud, the people’s desire will be ignored,” Rainsy said.
After the talks have concluded, Rainsy continued, a new election should be called.
“That’s why we decided to join the talks. Whoever has power or influence must join in the talks,” he said.
Sokha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior and head of the CPP’s negotiations working group, said yesterday that he could not comment on the specifics of the talks until the two sides had met.
“We should wait to meet and negotiate, then [we] can talk. It is progress, because the CNRP has been saying that they have the will, but making speeches and issuing statements is no political will. We must take action [to solve the crisis],” he said.
“Wait to see when we join the meeting who has the will to resolve the dispute, and who does not.”
He added that the opening of new talks showed that the opposition respected a joint agreement between CPP and CNRP leaders signed on September 19, 2013.
Political analyst Kem Ley, who was briefed on the closed-door negotiations in early January by Bun Chhay, welcomed the talks, but said he thought they would be “useless”.
“Political negotiations have been ongoing since the crackdown on factory workers,” he said yesterday. “I appreciate that they will start [formal] negotiations but, for me, they will be useless. This time, the CPP has great power and the CNRP has very little power at the negotiating table. An agreement will be reached soon, but national issues will not be resolved.”
He added that the onus would be on the CNRP to lay out their political platform at the talks.
“For me, I think that the CNRP should bring their platform to the table,” he said. “But the power and political culture of the CPP, the patronage network, that will carry on.”
Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said civil society groups would welcome a place at the negotiating table, but he would be satisfied if their recommendations were considered.
“It is not necessary [for us] to join the [electoral reform] committee. [But] we want them to take our recommendations and consider them thoroughly,” he said, adding that King Norodom Sihamoni would play an important role in solving the deadlock.
However, Son Soubert, a spokesman for the Royal Palace, said the King and Queen Mother would likely not be around to see a potential resolution, as they are scheduled to go to China on Wednesday for medical check-ups.
“Usually [medical trips] come at this time. Maybe they cannot have the King here, but perhaps they can manage to sort out their problems without having the King there,” he said.