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Japanese, parties start talking

Working groups from both the ruling party and the opposition sat down with Japanese researchers exploring options for electoral reform in Cambodia yesterday, with both groups coming away with a sunny outlook, party representatives said.

Though electoral reform has been on the table for months during post-election talks between the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party – which is still boycotting parliament – Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, the CPP's working group representative, said yesterday that Japan’s impartiality would ensure a fair assessment, and could help jump-start stalled negotiations.

“My understanding is that Japan has not taken sides with any political party, and this meeting was just to collect ideas. Japan is helping Cambodia; it is not helping one group or political party,” Kheng said, without commenting on the specifics of the discussion.

However, senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap stressed that the team “came to research various issues of electoral reform, not to find a resolution” to the current political deadlock.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the opposition had advocated for National Election Committee reform, a new voter list, equal access to state media and reform of the process for settling election disputes.

The party also provided the team of 10 Japanese government officials and academics with information on the alleged irregularities that occurred in last year’s still-disputed national election, he added.

Though many in the Kingdom have long called for the reform of the electoral process, Sovann said the fact that the Japanese team was here at the invitation of the CPP-led government was cause for optimism this time around.

“The CPP has the good will to invite them to come to Cambodia, so this is a common point” between the parties, he said.

Political analyst Kem Ley said he too was optimistic, though for different reasons.

With the spat between China and Vietnam making it more difficult for Cambodia to rely on China to fill its funding shortfalls, the Kingdom may be forced to look to its longtime development partners, namely the West and Japan, he said.

“So as I see it, the government has to reform to move the country forward.”

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