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Hun Sen does U-turn on early elections

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Prime Minister Hun Sen cuts a ribbon at the inauguration of Takhmao Bridge in Kandal province on Monday morning. He used the occasion to dismiss a plan for early elections that had seemingly been agreed to in principle. Heng Chivoan

Hun Sen does U-turn on early elections

PRIME Minister Hun Sen has done a U-turn on an agreement with the Cambodia National Rescue Party to hold elections five months early in February 2018, stating that the national ballot must take place in July at the end of the parliament’s five-year mandate.

Speaking today, the premier acknowledged he had made an in-principle arrangement with the Cambodia National Rescue Party last year to hold early elections as part of negotiations to end the opposition’s boycott of parliament, but said no official deal had been struck.

“I declare, the 2018 election will be held on Sunday, on the fourth week of July… not before, not later, the reason why is because all of you are stupid,” Hun Sen said, directing his remarks to the opposition.

“At the negotiation on July 22, I have [said] that we should put the fourth week of February [for election], you say later.

“[But] If political agreement said the election would be held on the fourth week [of February], then we would base this political agreement on an amendment to the constitution, [because] article 78 of the Cambodian Constitution states that the parliament have a five-year term, and parliament cannot dissolve before the mandate, unless the government dissolves twice within 12 months.

“But previously we have not changed it yet, because [there is no official agreement].

The premier then seemingly closed the door on any potential future changes to the date, meaning the national ballot will fall in rainy season.

“If the election is to be held before the mandate, we have to amend the constitution, but the CPP has decided absolutely not to amend the constitution.

“So now the election will be held the same [date].”

The comments, made at the opening of the Cambodia-China Takhmao Friendship Bridge in Kandal province, fly in the face of a statement by CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann in May that both sides had agreed on a February ballot following a year of talks.

They also contradict the premier’s own statement during the 2014 negotiations.

In April 2014, Hun Sen announced that he and Rainsy agreed “in principle” on a February ballot, but CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha, who previously pushed for the National Assembly elections to be held in 2016, did not support the date and was holding up the deal.

Responding yesterday, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay expressed surprise and disappointment that the prime minister had gone back on his word.

Chhay said the ruling party would likely gain an advantage by holding the vote in rainy season instead of dry season, when a higher turnout would was expected.

“Less and less workers turn up to vote, and it is very difficult to monitor the elections where it difficult to travel,” Chhay said.

”This needs to be explained. He must sit down and talk to the opposition…even though he has the power to change it, since we agreed together on that date, he should talk to the opposition before making the decision.”

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