Secret negotiations between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition are close to reaching a solution to the political stalemate that has gripped Cambodia since July’s general election, according to sources privy to the discussions.
Officials from both parties yesterday denied that talks had occurred, but two independent analysts said they had been briefed in depth by the senior government official acting as a go-between in the negotiations.
Political analyst Kem Ley and Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organization, an NGO promoting human rights and democracy, said yesterday they participated in lengthy discussions with the mediator over the proposed demands.
According to the pair, a high-ranking government official met with the opposition following the crackdown on striking garment workers and the clear-out of Freedom Park on January 3 and 4 as an envoy of Prime Minister Hun Sen to lay the ground for negotiations between the two parties to be presided over by the King.
Of the key demands relayed back to the premier from the opposition, 80 per cent have been agreed to, according to Ley.
A snap election and Hun Sen stepping down – key demands of the opposition-led street protests and mass demonstrations that rounded out 2013 – are not on the agenda, they said.
The list, however, includes amending the constitution through the National Assembly, establishing another parliamentary commission, dividing the 10 commission chairmanships equally between the two parties, giving the CNRP the deputy chair of the assembly, allowing the CNRP to have a TV license, and establishing a joint committee on electoral reform.
“[The mediator] said when the CPP and CNRP agreed completely on all the points, they will organise a meeting with the highest-ranking leaders of the party to meet in front of the King and sign [an agreement with] each other in front of the King,” Ley said.
According to Rithy, the opposition leaders met with the negotiator on January 5, a day after the violent evacuation of Freedom Park.
“He showed me one letter that Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha were requesting Prime Minister Hun Sen to negotiate and compromise, and he [Rainsy] wants to get the rank in the National Assembly; he wants to be vice-president,” he said.
The revelations come after Rainsy hinted on January 5, the day opposition leaders apparently met with the government envoy, that the government would eventually work with the opposition despite the crackdown.
“They use hard power for a while, to crack down first,” he told reporters at the time.
“But they are also responsible people to some extent. They have to ensure that after cracking down on the worker movement, they have to deal with the opposition, the political democratic opposition. They cannot arrest us, because they need a path, they need other political force.”
Yesterday, with no explanation, state news agency Agence Kampuchea-Presse placed a prominent slideshow of photos on its official website showing past meetings and handshakes between Hun Sen and Rainsy with the text “Remember Always”. The slideshow was not linked to a story and the caption text was missing.
Council of Ministers spokesman Ek Tha yesterday called the slideshow a “good sign”.
“It means that Cambodia should solve problems through peaceful means. I support [what AKP is doing] but I don’t really understand it. It’s good to share old memories, even if they are not always good ones. It’s a good sign and could be that they can resolve their differences,” he said.
The opposition yesterday denied that they had met with the government official in charge of setting the agenda for talks.
“It’s not substantial. It does not have any substance. This talk is only speculation,” Rainsy said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, meanwhile, said the CNRP was willing to negotiate but that any negotiations should “focus” on election reform and a new election.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith also denied the negotiations were taking place.
The revelations come as Rainsy and Sokha are set to face court this morning for questioning over allegations they incited striking garment workers to commit crimes and create social unrest.
Legal and political analysts yesterday dismissed the idea that the court would arrest or charge the leaders in order to avoid galvanising opposition anti-government protesters.
Ley, meanwhile, dismissed the court questioning as nothing more than a political sideshow.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA