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Coalition talks back on agenda

Coalition talks back on agenda

The three main Cambodian political parties could reopen coalition talks by the end

of February, after failing to reach agreement during their last meeting on December

17.

In a letter sent to the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) on February 11, Funcinpec's

secretary-general Prince Norodom Sirivudh asked for a date to re-open discussions.

The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) is available to meet any day from February 16 to the end

of month, said Son Chhay, who heads the SRP negotiating team.

"I cannot say when the new government would be formed; we are waiting to see

what happens at the reopening talks of the party task forces," Funcinpec President

Prince Norodom Ranariddh told reporters on February 11 before leaving to attend a

meeting in Spain, where Funcinpec will officially join the Center Democrats International,

a coalition of democratic political parties.

The prince returned to Cambodia on February 6, after being out of the country since

early November. The absence of the party leader is Funcinpec's strategy to avoid

pressure from senior Funcinpec officials that would force him into a coalition government,

said an analyst who requested not to be named.

Nhek Bunchhay, Funcinpec's deputy secretary general told the Post on February 11

that since the political impasse following the national elections on July 27, he

had met with Prime Minister Hun Sen twice for high level informal lobbying on December

26 and February 4.

Bunchhay said informal talks for the formation of a new government and National Assembly

with Hun Sen had been in progress but the three party leaders needed to agree on

some outstanding points.

"The parties have made compromises to reach agreement, but there is nothing

in writing for approval by the leaders before seeking the signature of King Norodom

Sihanouk," said Bunchhay.

He said the main sticking point was a proposal to CPP for a vote of confidence in

the National Assembly..

Other points were reform of the National Election Committee (NEC) and reform of the

judicial system.

However, Ranariddh warned that a continued stalemate could lead to new elections.

"Until now, Samdech Hun Sen has based a coalition government on two parties,

but the CPP is ready to accept a tripartite government," said the prince.

Ranariddh said that Hun Sen told him he remains concerned about Sam Rainsy who would

be strongly critical of the government if the opposition party formed part of the

government.

He said the formal merging of Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy Party will be a hot topic

at the Funcinpec Congress in March. "I believe that merging is the only strategy

for the democrats to win in the 2008 national elections."

Following the July 27 national elections CPP won 73 of the 123 seats in the National

Assembly, but fell short of two-thirds required by the Constitution to create a one-party

government. Funcinpec won 26 seats while SRP took 24 seats.

A serious political deadlock has been created because Funcinpec and SRP rejected

forming a two-party coalition government headed by Hun Sen.

A report of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights

in Cambodia issued in December stated: "In order to make progress in solving

its many problems Cambodia urgently needs effective, transparent and accountable

state institutions including a properly functioning parliament and government."

The three parties agreed to the guidelines outlined by King Norodom Sihanouk on November

5: to keep Ranariddh as president of the NA, if Funcinpec will support Hun Sen's

candidacy as Prime Minister before a vote in NA; Rainsy would become vice-president

of NA. However, they have been accusing each other of not respecting this agreement.

Lao Mong Hay, political analyst, said the impasse could not be solved in the next

few months: "I think a new government would be formed when the current government

faces a crisis with social issues such as no salaries for civil servants, no investment

and no new foreign assistance to Cambodia."

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