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Cambodia National Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha addresses supporters at Freedom Park
Cambodia National Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha addresses supporters at Freedom Park during one of many daily demonstrations in Phnom Penh in December. Scott Howes

Party talks to begin on Friday

Working groups from the Cambodia National Rescue Party and the Cambodian People’s Party will sit down face to face on Friday to hash out the agenda for proposed high-level talks between their respective leaders, representatives of both parties said yesterday.

CNRP spokesman and working-group member Yim Sovann said yesterday that the agenda his party would present would adhere to the opposition’s current demands of electoral reform and a new election.

Interior Ministry secretary of state and working-group representative Prum Sokha, on the other hand, was tight-lipped as to the position his party would take, but hinted that talks would be limited to an agreement to reform “electoral affairs” struck by the two parties at talks in September – a stance that prompted worry among analysts over both parties’ lack of flexibility.

“The [Cambodian] People’s Party has seen that there have been negotiations many times, and if [the CNRP] has the will to solve this problem by peaceful negotiations, it will have to be based on what we found out in the agreement the previous time,” Sokha said yesterday.

“We are putting it on the table to discuss further, because many rounds of negotiations are normal. What we do not agree on, we will discuss more, and what we do agree on, we will base on the joint points [from September].”

Sovann, reiterating the CNRP’s stance, said yesterday that if the two parties failed to work together, his party would continue to go its own way.

“If we cannot debate smoothly, [the two parties] will keep walking on different paths, but if we can debate smoothly, we will continue the top-level [talks],” he said.

Sovann will be joined on Friday by fellow working group members Kuoy Bunroeun and Pol Ham, while Sokha will be joined by fellow CPP representatives Sak Setha and Koeut Rith.

But if the parties maintain their seeming lack of flexibility, said political analyst Kem Ley, there is “no hope” for an agreement, “even if [they] meet another 100 times, there would be no hope”.

“Only if we set up a neutral scenario that does not allow [the CPP] to force its interests and also does not allow [the CNRP] to force its interests, [but] allows the people to push their interests in the scenario, then [negotiations] can be possible,” Ley said.

Puthea Hang, a political analyst and executive director of election watchdog NICFEC, also questioned how open the parties were to compromise.

“If there were no mass demonstrations, maybe there would be no return to negotiations,” Hang said. “Both sides have said that their doors were open [for negotiations], but I think that is just the rhetoric of the politicians.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Prum Sokha as a lawmaker. He is actually a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior.

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