Two days after opposition calls for renewed negotiations, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith announced yesterday evening that the ruling party will sit down with its opposition counterparts on Thursday to talk election reform, though opposition leaders last night weren’t so sure.
Speaking at a gathering of journalists at the Cambodiana Hotel yesterday, Kanharith said that Prime Minister Hun Sen would sit down across the table from opposition leader and Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy for the first time since September, but only to negotiate on the subject of electoral reform.
“As far as I know, today Samdech Prime Minister [Hun Sen] has already agreed to have a meeting on the second, but Mr Sam Rainsy wanted him to talk about [workers’] salaries,” Kanharith said. “Samdech Hun Sen has already said that for the talks, the only issue is the issue of the reform of the National Election Committee and election [reform].”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, however, maintained last night that the party had received no word of any such meeting, but noted that the opposition had been “willing to talk since the beginning”.
Despite Rainsy himself having called two days ago for talks to be held Wednesday through Friday, opposition lawmaker-elect Tioulong Saumura said that the decision to accept the Cambodian People’s Party’s overtures would still be up for debate.
“We know nothing about the meeting,” she said. “If and when we receive official information, we will convene our steering committee and permanent committee to discuss and decide [whether to sit down].
“We, in general, are open to dialogue,” Saumura added.
The CPP in recent days has maintained that it has been open to talks all along, but that discussions had stalled due to a lack of will on the part of the opposition – a claim that Rainsy dismissed yesterday afternoon as “a matter of propaganda”.
While Rainsy could not be reached for comment following Kanharith’s announcement yesterday, earlier in the day he confirmed that the opposition and ruling parties had been in contact with each other on the subject of negotiations, but still implied that talks were not a sure thing.
“We are making an approach through appropriate channels to test the good will of the other side” before making a decision, he said.
He also maintained that the opposition would continue to seek its twin goals of electoral reform and a new election in any upcoming talks.
Political analyst Kem Ley said yesterday that both parties would be going into negotiations in a very good position, and even the opposition’s demands of a new election might not be out of the question, if the party allows for sufficient time to make adequate reforms.
“The two parties have equal power for negotiations. One party has the armed forces, and is very strong. And right now, the opposition has people power, and is very strong,” he said. “Each party can negotiate equally, and make conditions of each other.”
But, Ley added, the fact that the CNRP and CPP are at apparent odds over the scheduling – and very existence – of negotiations, may indicate the usual strains of antagonism between the two parties.
“For me, [it is] the playing of political games they [the CPP] always do to make the demonstrators upset.”