Negotiations between the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and ruling Cambodian People’s Party looked like they might screech to an abrupt halt yesterday, as opposition leaders visiting supporters in Tbong Khmum province said they will “cut off” talks.
Speaking to about 1,000 supporters in the province’s O’Raing Ov district yesterday, CNRP president Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha said the talks were a “useless” attempt to “dupe foreign countries” into continuing to provide aid and called for renewed demonstrations.
“First, we stop negotiations. The talks are useless, because this [CPP working] group just delays [proceedings] to dupe foreign countries,” Rainsy said. “They said that the [Cambodia] National Rescue Party and [Cambodian] People’s Party have already agreed to negotiate, so give us money.
“So we will cut off negotiations and tell foreign countries not to give the money to [Prime Minister Hun Sen] the thief,” Rainsy said.
He added that dialogue would not restart until the CPP proved itself serious about National Election Committee reform – namely, by agreeing to key CNRP demands that NEC members should require approval by two-thirds of parliament and that it should be a constitutionally mandated body.
“When the NEC [will be] changed, we will talk more,” he said. “This time, there is not any choice besides [holding another] demonstration. So please all [citizens] prepare yourselves to hold a mass demonstration . . . to have 2 million people.”
Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker, yesterday called on the CNRP to continue the talks, adding that the CNRP “cannot use demonstrations as a basis to resolve the problem”.
He said the government had no plans to reform the NEC until the next mandate.
“The NEC could change in the next mandate. We will not change it now,” he said.
Despite the public announcement of an end to talks by the CNRP leadership, senior party officials in Phnom Penh yesterday could not confirm whether negotiations – which include a planned Monday meeting of a joint election reform committee – were actually being called off.
“As the leader of the negotiating team, I have not been informed about the response [to] the talks,” the CNRP’s Son Chhay said, adding that “before we hear anything from the CPP, I think it would be too early to post this kind of decision”.
Yim Sovann, a CNRP spokesman, also declined to comment, saying he had not heard the announcement.
After CNRP lawmakers had consulted with Rainsy and Sokha following the rally, Chhay said he thought that Rainsy was merely “trying to stress the importance of the reform of the NEC”.
“If the CPP rejects that, he was just saying it’s not worth continuing talking with the CPP about that.”
The Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA), a group of 20 election monitors, which has been highly criticised by the ruling party, yesterday urged the two sides to reach a consensus on electoral reform that would enable the CNRP to take its seats in the National Assembly.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, and Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, called on representatives of the CPP and CNRP not to postpone political talks and for daily negotiations to be held on specific topics.
“The endless postponing of political negotiations is boring the Cambodian people, election watchdogs and the media,” Eng said. “If they fail to reach a consensus in one morning, they must continue in the afternoon and every day.”
The CNRP’s Chhay confirmed yesterday evening that his party would wait for a response on NEC reform before making a decision to stop negotiations.
“I think we will wait for the response from the CPP until we officially decide, so I will write to [CPP negotiator] Mr Bin Chhin tomorrow, just to ask him how he responds to our proposal. [We’ll see] how he reacts to that, if he thinks our proposal is worth continuing to talk about.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH