In his first public remarks since Sunday’s vote, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that he would “welcome” an independent investigation into alleged election irregularities.
The announcement came just days after the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, civil society groups and the United States government called for a “credible” investigation into electoral defects with the participation of all parties involved – and after the government had already shut down such requests.
Hun Sen said that he had initially been informed that the NEC would handle all complaints, but said that he was open to cooperating with all stakeholders.
“If it is true, what I heard, then I think this is a positive thing that is opening the way to solving the remaining issues as per the law, but if the NEC thinks that it is necessary for political parties and civil society to participate, then the royal government and [Cambodian People’s Party] alike welcome such openness to show transparency and find a solution that is acceptable to all,” he told reporters, speaking at an infrastructure development project in Stung Meanchey.
Referring obliquely to a party stalemate in 2003 that delayed the formation of a government for 11 months, the premier went on to say that nonetheless, the National Assembly had always been eventually formed, and urged calm while official election results were tabulated.
“If incitement is created and makes the country fall into [violence], then the past spectre will come back,” he said. “Do people want that? I think no one wants that, and no one wants to pack their belongings and run.”
Hun Sen added that he was would be busy with his father’s funeral arrangements until the 100-day mourning period had ended, and that he had delegated negotiations to party higher-ups Sok An, Sar Kheng and Say Chhum. However, he would still be willing to sit down with the opposition personally, if need be, he added.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday said that the last time he had spoken personally to the prime minister was “so long ago, I don’t remember,” but called the overture “positive,” and urged a quick start to the investigation – “the sooner the better”.
“CNRP is always in favour of dialogue, but dialogue must be conducted on a sound foundation,” he said. “For the time being, sound foundation is the truth, or the search for the truth regarding election irregularities. So we have to expose the irregularities, to expose their nature, their scale…and their effects on the election results.”
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay echoed Rainsy’s sentiment, albeit more bluntly.
“We are in a position to find justice for the people first before any political negotiation can take place,” he said.
“We are not interested in making deals for our party’s benefit,” he added. “This question is so crucial for the sake of our country’s people…we have to deal with election fraud once and for all, find justice for the people before any political deals can be made.”
Independent political analyst Kem Ley agreed, cautioning against mass protests, and calling an independent investigation “the best option”.
“First we can talk about the technical errors, then we can talk about the political compromise, how to share power and all that,” he said, adding that CNRP could use proof of irregularities to secure legislative concessions and appointments – even control of the NEC. “This is a political compromise, not a technical correction [of missing votes]. If they choose a technical correction, that is the best option, but if you cannot, if every party cannot come to an agreement, they need to look at a compromise to share power.”
The international reaction to Hun Sen’s announcement was lukewarm, with the Australian embassy declining to comment, and the US embassy reiterating its “call for a full and transparent investigation that will be viewed as credible by the Cambodian people”.
The Japanese embassy said in a statement dated July 31 that it “hopes that the processes following the election such as response to complaints will be carried out in a fair, prompt, and peaceful manner through dialogue and cooperation between the people concerned”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ABBY SEIFF