Monday, July 21, 2014

Parties to Meet For ‘Final Talks’ on Basis of 2018 Election

CNRP President Sam Rainsy leads a motorcade from the Phnom Penh International Airport to the Council of Ministers building on Saturday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
The Cambodia Daily - JULY 21, 2014

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy announced on his Facebook page late last night that the CNRP has accepted a February 2018 national election in exchange for a new electoral commission and that “final talks” to end the political crisis will take place at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Mr. Rainsy posted a statement stamped by both the ruling CPP and the CNRP and said that the talks will take place at the Senate “on the basis of the principle agreement reached between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy on 9 April 2014.”

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann confirmed last night that the statement, which was posted online at 11:55 p.m., was genuine.

Interior Ministry secretary of state Prum Sokha, who has led the ruling party in past talks, also confirmed the statement.

“The talks today were on the phone between [Interior Minister] Sar Kheng and Sam Rainsy,” Mr. Sokha said, confirming that the plans call for Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Hun Sen to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

In English, Mr. Rainsy laid out the main points of the agreement upon which the top-level talks will take place: “a new constitutionally mandated national electoral commission will be established with the approval of the two parties; next commune elections in February 2017 and next legislative elections in February 2018.”

The next national election had been scheduled for July 2018, and the CNRP was pushing for a new election as soon as possible.

Mr. Rainsy returned home from France on Saturday with a message of reconciliation, vowing to resume the political talks with the CPP after eight CNRP officials were sent to prison last week on charges of “leading an insurrection.”

Mr. Rainsy, who left Cambodia on June 14, was greeted by a few thousand supporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport on Saturday morning before leading a motorcade—which saw thousands more gathered along the streets—to the Council of Ministers building.

Blocking the road in front of the compound, which also houses Prime Minister Hun Sen’s palatial office building, Mr. Rainsy told supporters to refrain from responding violently to state violence, as happened during a protest on Tuesday in which opposition protesters viciously retaliated against Daun Penh district security guards.

“Our Khmer people have to unite and reconcile with each other and between all of the political tendencies in search of a united nation that will guarantee that the country is peaceful, and has stability with freedom and justice,” the opposition leader said.

On Tuesday, opposition supporters protesting the ongoing closure of Freedom Park, where the CNRP had based months of protests calling for Mr. Hun Sen to stand down, fought back against efforts to disperse them.

Having for months taken the beatings from the notoriously violent district security force, who repeatedly attacked protesters to enforce a ban on public gatherings, the protesters for the first time responded in kind, sparking a street brawl.

Several guards were sent to a hospital, including an estimated six with serious injuries. In the following days, the eight CNRP officials were arrested, charged with insurrection and incitement to commit a felony and placed in Prey Sar prison to await trial.

Mr. Rainsy, who led his supporters from the Council of Ministers building to his party’s offices in Meanchey district on Saturday, called on Mr. Hun Sen to meet with him in person to expedite a solution before next week’s anniversary of the disputed 2013 election.

“We request negotiations [starting] from Monday between the top leaders of the two parties,” the opposition leader said. “The two parties have to meet and find [a] solution as soon as possible.”

The CNRP surprised the CPP on July 28 by winning 55 of the total 123 seats in parliament.

The party has since boycotted the seats, saying that widespread fraud at the election in fact robbed it of outright victory.

Civil society groups and various foreign governments, including the U.S., have called for an independent investigation into the election to resolve the issue, but the CPP has refused.

CPP spokesman Cheam Yeap had said by phone in the afternoon that his party welcomed resumed negotiations but that it was incumbent on the CNRP to issue a formal request, including a proposed agenda.

“The second-rung has to request to the CPP if they want to unite the nation on time and run the country together,” he said.

Mr. Sovann, the CNRP spokesman, said that informal communication between members of the two parties had resumed Sunday. He said the pair were working to arrange the new round of talks.

Mr. Rainsy has called on the CPP to release the eight opposition officials—lawmakers-elect Mu Sochua, Keo Phirum, Men Sothavrin, Ho Vann, Real Camerin, Long Ry and Nuth Rumduol, as well as Oeur Narith, an assistant to Ms. Sochua—immediately.

Meng Sopheary, the lawyer for Ms. Sochua, said she was preparing a case to be submitted to the Constitutional Council to rule on the legality of Ms. Sochua’s detention.

Article 76 of the Constitution says “the National Assembly consists of at least 120 members.” The CPP government argued last year that it was legitimate because the body has 123 members, even if the 55 from the opposition refuse to accept their seats.

The CNRP says its lawmakers-elect accordingly either have immunity from prosecution as members of the National Assembly or the present National Assembly and government are unconstitutional.

“We will file a complaint on Monday or Tuesday to the Constitutional Council to interpret whether she and the other lawmakers have immunity or not,” Ms. Sopheary said.

She also said that Ms. Sochua, a U.S. citizen, had still not been allowed visits from family or friends. “The prison does not allow her family, relatives and friend to visit her and they told them that it was an order from the top level,” Ms. Sopheary said.

U.S. Embassy spokesman John Simmons said embassy staff were also still trying to get access to Ms. Sochua, who was detained on Tuesday. The government is obligated under international treaty to allow foreign consul staff to visit a detained citizen.

“The U.S. Embassy has made attempts to gain consular access and we are continuing to seek consular access,” he said.

At a press conference in Washington on Friday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also called for restraint from both the CPP and CNRP to defuse the situation and avoid further violence.

“We emphasize the importance of due process guarantees and call for the release of the Cambodia National Rescue Party officials,” she said. “We once again also urge…the Cambodian Government to lift the ban on demonstrations and allow for the peaceful exercise of freedom of assembly.”

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