Senior Cambodian People’s Party figures who have been at the forefront of negotiations with the opposition party yesterday offered lukewarm responses to the prospect of restarting talks that would bring an end to the opposition’s seven-month-long parliamentary boycott.
Their position – that the opposition party was wrong to reject a deal discussed at length between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy earlier this month after weeks of backroom talks – confirmed speculation that while the political deadlock had shown promising signs of ending before Khmer New Year, two weeks on, the parties are no closer to an agreement.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng responded yesterday to reporters’ questions , with seeming exasperation about further negotiations, which stalled after Hun Sen said on April 10 that Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy leader Kem Sokha was holding up a deal.
“Now I will ask you two questions. Who should we meet with? And if we meet, what are we supposed to talk about? Where should we start from now because we have gone all the way from the lower level to the top level [in negotiations] and in the end, the result was kicked out by the CNRP,” he said.
“Now where should negotiations start from? I don’t know,” said Kheng, speaking after a ceremony where he appointed the director-general of the newly formed Department of Immigration at his ministry.
However, he continued, the CPP would still be willing to talk with the CNRP, but with the onus resting on the opposition to request further negotiations
Before the New Year holiday, Rainsy and Hun Sen had reportedly agreed on a number of aspects of reform, including the overhaul of the National Election Committee and that the next election be brought forward to February 2018.
In a move that many interpreted as part of a “divide and conquer” approach, the premier placed the blame squarely at the feet of Sokha, who was away in the United States, for not agreeing to that proposal when the deal faltered.
In response, Rainsy denied there was any split between himself and Sokha, and said that he had never agreed to a February 2018 election date. He added that the CNRP was holding out for an election to be held at least a year earlier than the scheduled July 2018 date.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap yesterday echoed Kheng in expressing pessimism about future talks.
Following the prime minister’s line, he said no agreement could be made while Sokha remained “defiant”, but congratulated Rainsy’s alleged flexibility in comparison, adding that negotiations could resume when Hun Sen returns from an official visit to Belarus this Saturday.
Rainsy flew to Europe on April 13 and Sokha remains in the United States, though both are expected to return to the Kingdom in the coming days.
“But [I think] that if the negotiations cannot reach a good result, not doing it is better because it wastes time. [The parties might] nearly be in accord but just being nearly [in agreement] is not an agreement at all,” Yeap said.
Rainsy did not respond to emailed requests for comments before press time.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith said he was not surprised that the CPP was not keen on further negotiations.
He added that his party was remaining firm on three key points – namely an early election, NEC overhaul and a TV licence being granted to
“Regarding these three points that we have taken to propose, there does not seem to be any points that the Cambodian People’s Party [is serious] about wanting to do at all,” he said.
“If they don’t want to negotiate . . . we should let people who are the voters solve this.”
Political commentator Kem Ley yesterday said he was disappointed in both parties for focusing on political concessions in negotiations instead of meaningful reforms.
“They are organising for winning an election, not [to create] a free and fair election,” he said.
“Before Khmer New Year was just a politicians’ agenda . . . [and] not in the country’s interest.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH