The opposition party yesterday called for a postponement of election reform talks with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in favour of a meeting between top party leaders, citing the continuing failure of a lower-level joint committee to agree on National Election Committee overhaul.
The discord was such that following more than two hours behind closed doors at the Senate – though CPP officials later said talks had only lasted 30 minutes before the opposition cancelled the meeting – the two parties not only failed to issue a joint statement, but also wanted to hold separate, but simultaneous, press briefings.
After complaints from reporters, they agreed to hold them one after the other.
Son Chhay, the CNRP’s head delegate to the committee, said his party wished to postpone talks because CPP delegates were refusing to focus discussions on NEC reform.
“Our delegation to the committee reached the limit of decision-making [possibilities] in today’s meeting, [so] we could not make any decision on a joint statement or agreement,” he said.
“I would like to stress that our delegation . . . will not stop negotiations. But [further talks] depend on discussing NEC reform.”
For that to happen, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen must first meet, he said.
“If the CPP will put the national interest beyond the interest of their political party, they have to prepare a top meeting between the leaders. The reform of the NEC must come through a political agreement between the CNRP and CPP.”
But Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, head of the CPP’s delegation, said his party had refused to sign a joint statement proposed by the CNRP that would officially postpone negotiations because “it is not the political will of the CPP” to do so.
An election reform framework agreed to at last week’s committee meeting listed the reform of “election institutions” as one of 14-points that would be taken to a public seminar for consultation.
However, Chhin said yesterday that specific CNRP requests, such as the NEC being replaced by a new, constitutionally-mandated body and for committee members to then require approval by two-thirds of parliament, were outside of that framework.
“Requiring two-thirds of parliament to vote on the formation of an election body is impossible, because it will tie up the nation,” he said.
Koul Panha, director at elections watchdog Comfrel, said he was “disappointed” by the outcome of the meeting.
“There is too much centralised decision-making [by the parties]. They have not really delegated decision-making [power] to the joint committee because they need their top leaders’ decision on particular issues . . . and that’s the reason they are unable to produce any outcome,” he said.
Another meeting remains scheduled – at this point – for next Monday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH