Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy spoke on the phone for nearly an hour yesterday and have reached a “good agreement” on National Election Committee reform, Rainsy said, paving the way for a deal that could soon see the Cambodia National Rescue Party end its more than six-month-long parliamentary boycott.
According to Rainsy, only one point remains to be decided between the two leaders – the date of an early national election – but the CNRP leader is “cautiously optimistic” that the ruling party will respond positively to his party’s latest proposal, the date of which he declined to specify.
A senior Cambodian People’s Party official said yesterday that his party was open to a deal that could see the election moved forward a few months for logistical purposes.
“We have moved forward. We have come to an agreement on the composition and the independence of the electoral commission, which was called the National Election Committee, but in future, let’s [just] call it the electoral commission,” Rainsy said yesterday evening.
“We have agreed that this electoral commission will be a constitutionally mandated body for the organisation of any future election, and we have also agreed that [its] composition will be jointly decided by the two parties and needs an agreement of the two parties. This is a good agreement, and we are all satisfied with that.”
The CNRP had previously demanded that NEC members require the approval of two-thirds of parliament, but “if you read between the lines, [yesterday’s agreement] is even better than a two-thirds agreement”, because it requires mutual consensus, Rainsy said.
On the remaining issue of bringing forward the national election, which is currently scheduled for July 2018, “the difference [between the parties] is not that far”, according to the opposition leader, with the CNRP awaiting a response to a “final counter-proposal” of a date he wouldn't specify.
The CPP has previously resisted an earlier election, saying it would be unconstitutional to dissolve the assembly before the end of its mandate.
The agreements being hammered out would require the parties to work together to amend the constitution and the election law in parliament, which was opened by the King in September with only 68 CPP lawmakers present.
Several senior CPP officials could not be reached for comment yesterday to verify Rainsy’s claims.
Chheang Vun, spokesman for the National Assembly and member of the CPP’s negotiating team, said the CPP was against an “early election” but was amicable to a deal that would see the election brought forward slightly for logistical purposes.
“It is difficult [for people to vote] in rainy months, so maybe the [election date] could be changed a little. This could happen,” he said.
Vun declined to comment further about talks between Hun Sen and Rainsy, including any agreement on NEC reform, saying he was not privy to the top-level discussions.
NEC president Im Suosdey said yesterday he had “heard about the discussions” but did not wish to comment. When asked about the NEC being scrapped in favour of a new elections’ body and its current members removed, he said, “I don’t have any interest in those issues. What I am doing is based on the legal procedure.”
While the CNRP backed switching the poll date to the dry season, to make voting easier, it wants the election date moved further back than just a few months, Rainsy said.
According to CNRP lawmaker-elect Eng Chhay Eang, the two leaders spoke for more than 45 minutes yesterday after a preliminary call between Rainsy and Interior Minister Sar Kheng to set up the talks.
The pair also discussed the CNRP obtaining a TV licence and an earlier date for the next commune council elections, he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA