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Opposition boycott collapses as SRP strikes deal on NA reform

Opposition boycott collapses as SRP strikes deal on NA reform

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Lawmakers from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party cancel their planned boycott of the new National Assembly's inaugural session after last-minute talks with CPP officials

Heng Chivoan

SRP President Sam Rainsy leaves the National Assembly building after the inaugural session of the newly elected parliament.

THE last-minute collapse of the opposition's planned National Assembly boycott is an early indication the bark of the opposition in the new CPP-majority mandate could be a good deal louder than its bite.

Following 11-hour talks with officials on Tuesday night, Sam Rainsy Party officials agreed to attend Wednesday's inauguration ceremony, leaving a handful of MPs from the Human Rights Party to carry out the boycott alone.

Both parties previously said they would skip the inauguration to draw attention to their allegations that thousands of opposition supporters were barred from voting in the July 27 national poll due to the manipulation of voter lists.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that SRP officials approached Cambodian Chamber of Commerce Chairman Kith Meng with a message for the prime minister Tuesday evening, suggesting talks over the planned boycott.

He added that a compromise was reached after midnight, with Sam Rainsy agreeing to attend the ceremony in return for an amendment to the Assembly's internal rules that would formally recognise the role of the Kingdom's opposition parties.

"The SRP requested that the government recognise the role of the opposition ... in order to save face," Hun Sen told reporters after Wednesday's inauguration, adding that the proposed amendment would be passed onto the Assembly after it had been vetted by the NA's legislative committee. "I had no intention of negotiating with those threatening a boycott, but I did so because of peace."

SRP spokesman Son Chhay said the role of the opposition was vital in democracies. He hailed the agreement with the government and the proposed amendment to the Assembly's internal rules as an important step forward.

I will not allow small-voice parties to hold the majority-

voice party hostage.

"Within the amendment ... the opposition party will be officially appointed by the King and will have some funds from the national budget to help it perform its duties. This is a very important promise from the prime minister," he told reporters at SRP headquarters Wednesday.

In a tacit recognition of the difficulties faced by the SRP in the new CPP-majority government, Son Chhay said that the party's involvement was better for the future of Cambodia than continued non-cooperation. "We quit the boycott because we are thinking of the interests of the nation," he said. "It was difficult to make the decision but we hope that cooperation with the ruling party will help to encourage them to respect the law and the rights of the Cambodian people."

Unprecedented stability

Due to the CPP's landslide electoral victory, which delivered the ruling party 90 seats out of 123, Cambodia has managed to avoid a post-election political deadlock for the first time since the UNTAC era. After the 2003 election, government was paralysed for more than a year as competing factions negotiated coalition agreements, but Hun Sen said the new government would rule with one voice. "From now on, I will not allow the small-voice parties to hold the majority-voice party hostage," he said.

Puthea Hang, executive director of election monitor Nicfec, said the SRP had successfully used its boycott to force some changes, but that CPP dominance would nonetheless be the keynote of the next five years. "We see that the boycott of the opposition was a way of advocating for the CPP to make changes in the NA, but it will still be difficult to establish checks and balances," he said.

Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha said despite the overwhelming majority won by the CPP in this year's polls, the compromise and appearance of Sam Rainsy at the inauguration was beneficial for both parties.

"I think the opposition was taking a risk [in threatening a boycott], but the CPP was also taking a risk and the CPP understands this," he said. "So they are taking another approach."

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