Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday said the next Phnom Penh governor should come from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, citing his party’s election dominance in the capital.
The idea – floated in a speech to hundreds of commune and district council members – came ahead of a planned meeting between officials from the two major parties tomorrow.
Rainsy has said the issue of how governors are appointed could be raised alongside his party’s core agenda relating to electoral investigation and reform.
Speaking at the CNRP’s Tuol Kork district headquarters, Rainsy said the opposition should be at the helm of the capital, where it won seven of 12 parliamentary seats at the July 28 election.
“We demand that the Phnom Penh municipal governor must come from the [CNRP] to respect the will of the people who want change,” he said.
He later toned down his rhetoric, however, telling the Post the appointment of governors in provinces dominated by the opposition at the election should require CNRP approval.
“As a principle, at least in the four provinces where the CNRP won the last election … we want to have a say in the appointment of the governor,” he said. “The majority of the people support the CNRP, so the CNRP must have a say.”
He added that in the long run, the CNRP would push for all provincial governors to be elected by popular vote.
The ruling party now appoints governors through the Ministry of Interior.
Senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said he was not aware that Rainsy had made demands for the City Hall position.
In previous meetings, Rainsy had wanted “checks and balances” and the National Assembly presidency, he said.
“It is his ambition, but it will depend on the CPP, who are the winners of the election. Whatever he wants, he can’t just have.”
Tomorrow’s scheduled talks, the first official dialogue between the parties since top leaders met at the National Assembly on September 16, will involve “technical working groups”, and not high-level leaders.
Key CNRP requests include an independent investigation into election irregularities, electoral reforms based on United Nations and NGO recommendations, and the replacement of all nine National Election Committee members.
But yesterday Rainsy said that other issues, such as the appointment of governors, could also be discussed.
“Talks will be open, any issues can be raised since there were no preconditions. So we will listen to each other,” he said.
“Maybe they will raise other issues [at the meeting] that we have no idea of … [so] we may raise this governor issue.”
Although the CNRP’s demands may appear popular, a growing number of opposition supporters have begun vocally expressing their dismay that the party is negotiating with the CPP at all.
In response to that yesterday, Rainsy clarified to his party members that negotiating with the CPP on reform did not amount to negotiating on joining the National Assembly.
“Please be aware of [the difference between] meeting and joining.… Just meeting to have a talk does not mean that [we] join [the assembly],” Rainsy said, stressing the CNRP would not join the parliament or any kind of ruling coalition with the CPP.
Tomorrow’s meeting – which will occur at the National Assembly – would be a “technical meeting”, which won’t make any decisions, Rainsy told the Post.
“They will just be preparing for decisions to be taken by the top leaders. It will facilitate direct talks between the top leaders to allow them to make decisions.”
The CNRP will insist that any future top-level meeting is publicly broadcast to enable “the people to … monitor and to follow the discussion”, he said.
Sak Sitha, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry and a member of the CPP delegation, said talks could be fruitful if the CNRP really had the will to negotiate. “When we talk, whatever we agree together on we can reform.
Any points where we have a lot of disagreement, we cannot reform,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA