Leaders of the ruling and opposition parties yesterday met to hash out disagreements over commune election laws, but seemingly steered clear of sensitive matters such as the imprisonment of an opposition party senator and 14 political activists.
Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy met for two hours at the National Assembly, declining to speak with reporters afterwards.
Spokesmen for the pair said only a few disagreements remained concerning local election reform, which the parties have been working to amend in recent months.
The apparent cordial atmosphere came only one day after Prime Minister Hun Sen lambasted the opposition as “traitorous” in a scathing speech at Phnom Penh’s Sokha Hotel.
Among disputed points is the Cambodian People’s Party’s proposal to shorten the commune election campaigning period, restrict the movement of campaign marches between communes and limit where political posters can be displayed.
Sak Setha, Interior Ministry secretary of state, said that of 196 articles of the law, only 3 or 4 were contested.
“Only about 2 per cent [of the law] is a problem, and it’s not really a problem,” Setha said.
”Normally, in the democratic process, parties have different concepts. That is a normal process and we must be aware of each other’s ideas.”
He continued: “We do not use the word ‘disagreement’; it is a problem of not understanding together. One side understands like this, another understands like that. So we will continue to be more aware of this.”
Eng Chhay Eang said the CNRP would continue to press for allowing rallies to move between communes, currently permitted, and maintaining the 15-day campaigning period.
“Both leaders will study the issues and find a joint resolution next time,” Chhay Eang said.
“The working groups have debated many times and we have agreed almost completely,” he continued.
Since the arrest of Sam Rainsy Party Senator Hong Sok Hour over a border-related Facebook post in August, as well as the jailing of 14 CNRP activists over anti-government protests last year, attention has turned to Rainsy to see whether he will attempt to negotiate their freedom with the ruling party.
However, no details have emerged about any potential talks on the issue, with the CPP regularly saying the judiciary’s independence precludes such discussions, despite several instances of compromises in the past to free jailed opposition members.