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Devil’s in the details

Prime Minister Hun Sen leaves the National Assembly in Phnom Penh
Prime Minister Hun Sen leaves the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Monday after a meeting with Sam Rainsy. Heng Chivoan

Devil’s in the details

Progress towards amending the constitution and election law – key prerequisites of a deal to bring the opposition party into parliament – hit a snag yesterday, with Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy saying the next steps depend on the ruling party.

Three working group meetings were held at the National Assembly aimed at amending the rules of parliament, the election law and the constitution.

“The result today varied from one group to another,” Rainsy said. “The working group on the National Assembly has completed its work. The draft amendment has been completed. It will be submitted for approval when the National Assembly meets.

“But the two working groups on the constitution and the election law have not moved forward very significantly,” he added.

The cross-party meetings yesterday followed the announcement on Monday that the president of the rights group Licadho, Pung Chhiv Kek, had accepted an offer to become the crucial ninth member of a reformed National Election Committee (NEC).

She will likely hold the deciding vote in the new election body, with four candidates appointed to represent the interests of both the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Choosing Kek as the ninth member, widely seen as the only candidate both parties could agree on, removed what was thought to be the biggest stumbling block in the way of fulfilling the political deal struck between Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen on July 22.

The opposition’s 55 elected members could still take their seats as early as next week, but Rainsy said yesterday this now hinges on how the CPP approaches the next round of talks.

“At the request of the CPP, they have requested another meeting either on Friday or Monday. They say they cannot meet [today]. We are prepared to meet [today], but how we move forward now really depends on the CPP delegation,” he said.

Members of the CPP working group could not be reached to respond to Rainsy’s comments.

The CPP, however, is heralding the beginning of a new era of transparency in the country.

Speaking to reporters after the conclusion of yesterday’s talks, Chheang Vun, spokesman of the National Assembly and head of the CPP’s delegation, said that in future, politicians from both sides of the aisle would hold press conferences after each parliamentary session.

“We have amended the National Assembly’s regulations so that, after each session of parliament, every political party with seats in the parliament will have the opportunity to talk with journalists by holding press conferences for 20 minutes,” he said.

Reporters will not be allowed to attend sessions of parliament or photograph inside the chamber, he added.

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponnarith downplayed perceived obstacles in the talks, saying that the talks lasted until about 6pm because the opposition had so many questions for the government working groups.

“Before, we have not implemented [the internal regulations] fully. We have debated for a long time on this point, to have the government implement them according to the internal order of parliament, either verbally or in writing,” he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Hun Sen had shown he was willing to preside over a “transition” period.

“The CNRP accused the election committee [of bias]; now everyone has agreed to overhaul it…it’s a very good move,” he said.

“He has reformed the National Assembly for the national interest, even though he doesn’t have to. He said in a recent CPP meeting he likes to see participation from everybody…we want to see the CNRP have a voice [in parliament] to scrutinise the government.

“We want action from the opposition, to be partners in prosperity and the pursuit of happiness.”

Representatives of both parties declined to comment on who might claim the remaining eight seats on the NEC, although some names have been put forward, including Kuoy Bunroeun, a former CNRP lawmaker for Kampong Cham province.

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said he would consider a position on the NEC if he was selected, but he would have to see the amended laws and regulations.

“Because the people have become interested in the political process, now it is very different than before.”

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