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Fifth political meeting fails to end stalemate

Fifth political meeting fails to end stalemate

After the fifth meeting between the main political parties on December 17, no agreement

was reached to end an impasse that has prevented a government from forming since

July. It was the first such meeting without King Norodom Sihanouk.

"The result of the meeting today is that three political parties agreed to accept

each other's concepts and to pave the way for an end to the National Assembly deadlock,"

said Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) parliamentarian on December 17.

The next meeting will take place on December 19 according to the National Assembly's

task force of representatives from the three main political parties. The parties

will discuss proposals presented at the previous meeting.

"The three political parties agreed on a pact with each other to implement future

political programs," said Chhay.

But Kol Pheng, head of National Assembly task force for Funcinpec, said the Cambodian

People's Party (CPP) had returned to the negotiating table with a contentious "package

vote" that would hold elections for positions in the National Assembly and the

government simultaneously.

Despite objections, each party agreed to take back proposals to their party leaders

for consideration.

"Every party agreed on cooperation," said Pheng.

However, the Alliance of Democrats has already flatly rejected any possibility of

a package vote, which they say would be unconstitutional. The CPP denies this but

has proposed an alternative.

Khieu Kanharith, the CPP spokesman, told the Post on December 18 that the country's

legal framework could be altered to permit a vote without amending the Constitution.

He said if the deadlock was not solved soon, a national referendum could be held,

as suggested by King Sihanouk.

The King wrote on his website on December 14 that if the political deadlock continued,

he would propose a referendum. This would offer the public the opportunity to amend

the 1993 Constitution to allow the Prime Minister and National Assembly leadership

to be elected during a simultaneous, majority vote in the National Assembly.

The current Constitution requires these positions to be approved by two-thirds of

the total 123 assembly seats.

The most recent session of the National Assembly convened on December 15. It drew

118 of the 123 newly elected parliamentarians to the 20-minute meeting.

Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his daughter Princess Rattana Devi,

Funcinpec lawmaker Khek Vandy, CPP lawmaker Khieu Kanharith and SRP lawmaker Tioulong

Saumura did not attend the session.

Ranariddh has been overseas in France for more than a month, said Funcinpec officials.

Some party leaders and political observers said the Prince was avoiding pressure

from the CPP to agree on a power-sharing arrangement.

Prince Norodom Sirivudh, Funcinpec's secretary general, also returned to parliament

for the first time in eight years. Speaking to reporters outside the National Assembly

on December 15, he said his return to the National Assembly represented a success

for democratic struggle.

Sirivudh was ejected from the National Assembly in 1995 when he was Funcinpec's Minister

of Foreign Affairs. He went into exile for more than three years after being accused

of conspiring to assassinate Hun Sen.

He returned to the country in 1999 after being granted amnesty from his half-brother

King Norodom Sihanouk. He had promised never to return to politics.

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