With Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers due to meet their ruling party counterparts this morning at the National Assembly, talk of a deal to resolve the Kingdom’s political stalemate hangs in the air, though it remains to be seen what, if any, compromises will be made.
In an interview yesterday, influential media baron Soy Sopheap – who has in the past acted as a mediator between the two parties – laid out some terms of a plan to “move forward”, saying the proposal had been sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen and discussed with opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
Sopheap said, firstly, it would involve the CNRP ending their parliamentary boycott and joining a plenary session scheduled for early next month and, secondly, proposing a new candidate for first vice president of the National Assembly, the role stripped from CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha by the Cambodian People’s Party last year.
Sopheap cautioned the CNRP against bringing a list of immediate demands to the table, saying they needed to be “flexible”. Though CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday insisted there was no deal on the table, the premier last week signalled his party was willing to talk at the National Assembly, where the two sides could “shake hands”.
Relations between the opposition and ruling party have nose-dived in recent months, following what many have called a campaign of state-backed “judicial harassment” of political opponents.
Several opposition figures and civil society workers are in prison, while CNRP president Sam Rainsy and Sokha both face jail terms. The former is in exile abroad, while the latter remains holed up at CNRP headquarters. The party last month threatened mass demonstrations in response.
Yesterday morning, Sokha told supporters at party headquarters that five opposition lawmakers would join a meeting of the parliament’s permanent committee today to “see how the agenda is” before deciding whether to end their boycott.
Sokha said the party was seeking a “solution” and “working hard” to release its imprisoned members and others, such as four employees from rights group Adhoc and election official Ny Chakrya.
Interestingly, Sokha, who took refuge in the headquarters in May, also said he would go to register as a voter after the Pchum Ben holiday concludes, a move that would entail exiting the CNRP’s offices, leaving him vulnerable to arrest.
“I believe there must be political solution soon or later; it is up to our communication skills whether we can find the [solution] and a way out, and I believe there will be,” said Sokha, who stressed that ultimately it was “up to the other side”.
CNRP spokespeople were unreachable yesterday to discuss whether they would consider filling Sokha’s old post at the National Assembly. The ousting, decried by the CNRP as unconstitutional, followed a vicious attack on two CNRP lawmakers outside the parliament, an act which marked, in many ways, the beginning of the sharp political downturn.
However, one senior opposition member, who requested anonymity to speak freely, yesterday said he did not think the party would accept a proposal that included replacing Sokha.
“Sokha must be returned to his post as vice chairman of the National Assembly and Sam Rainsy must return,” the source said.
“And the most important [thing] is the request to free the jailed people, the activists and jailed CNRP.”
Reached yesterday, a political observer, who also requested anonymity, said it appeared the CPP was trying to “normalise” relations and, given that the CNRP did not accept the cases against its members, the party would likely lose credibility among its supporters and be seen as “surrendering” if it agreed to return to the assembly and name a new parliamentary vice president.
However, he suggested the party could also “cooperate” on one hand, while vocally resisting the lawsuits on the other.
Independent analyst Chea Vannath, meanwhile, appealed for both parties to first sit at the table.
“Negotiations by nature mean give and take. I hope that in the CPP and CNRP, they will have good negotiation skills,” she said.