The first senior-level meeting between the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party aimed at breaking a deadlock over election results ended on a pessimistic note Tuesday though they have decided to continue negotiations, officials said.
The CNRP said in a statement that the meeting was not “fruitful,” lamenting that its key proposal for an investigation into fraud and other irregularities in the July 28 elections continues to be set aside by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“The CNRP would like to inform the public that the meeting of working teams between the CPP and CNRP … didn’t produce any fruitful results,” the statement said, adding that the lack of successful negotiations was due to “the CPP [refusal] to investigate the election irregularities.”
“To be responsible before the nation, the CNRP thinks an investigation into election irregularities is vital, and it must be carried out before any political solution agreement takes place.”
The two parties failed to discuss the “vital” issue, the CNRP said after their first meeting since talks in September collapsed.
The CNRP added that while Tuesday’s three-hour closed door meeting had “not produced any positive results,” it would like to continue to hold talks with the ruling party. The next meeting could be held late this week.
Observers do not expect the meetings to make any breakthrough without the presence of CPP leader and prime minister Hun Sen and his CNRP counterpart Sam Rainsy.
At a joint press conference following the talks, the Ministry of the Interior’s Secretary of State and senior CPP official Prum Sokha refused to elaborate on the content of the meeting, saying only that it had followed up on discussions the two sides had held in September.
“As a technical team, we can’t make any political decisions—we discussed what was left over from the top leaders’ meeting [in September],” he said.
“We met only to talk about technical terms.”
The CNRP put forward an agenda which included its demand for an investigation into poll fraud, the resignation of all members of the National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees the nation’s elections, and the implementation of recommendations from U.N. experts and NGOs on electoral and other reforms.
Last week, the CNRP said that it was prepared to hold negotiations with the CPP without any preconditions—a shift from an earlier position that any talks must be conditional and that the government must accept the three key demands.
But on Tuesday, the CPP was only willing to discuss the possibility of electoral reforms, Prum Sokha said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said at the joint press conference that each side had brought different agendas to the table and would discuss the various points with their leadership before meeting again.
“We have each submitted our agendas with different points raised to the other side,” Yim Sovann said.
“But there are two aspects to the talks—the political and technical decisions—and only the leaders can make the political decisions,” he said, adding that the political side of the negotiations will focus on electoral reform.
Cambodia’s political crisis erupted after the elections when the opposition challenged the poll results, citing fraud and other irregularities.
The government-appointed NEC awarded the CPP 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55 in the election, but the opposition says it was robbed of victory.
The CNRP had refused to take its seats in the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, but the CPP unilaterally convened the legislature, reappointed Hun Sen as premier and set up all the parliamentary commissions comprising its own members.
The CNRP said the CPP moves took Cambodia “back to a one-party system of governance.”
Hun Sen, who is into his 28th year in power, defended the formation of parliament as legal and has rejected claims of election irregularities.
The CPP had insisted that CNRP members elected to the National Assembly based on the election’s official results must be sworn in as lawmakers before any negotiations could take place, but removed that condition ahead of Tuesday’s talks.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service following Tuesday’s meeting, CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay expressed frustration that the CPP “refused to investigate election irregularities or ask NEC members to resign,” and would only discuss the prospect of election reform.
He also criticized the ruling party for rejecting the CNRP’s call for the talks to be held in a public forum. Interior Minister and senior CPP official Sar Kheng told RFA last week that the media and nongovernmental organizations were particularly not welcomed to observe.
Prum Sokha said Tuesday that a follow-up meeting between the two parties will likely be held before the end of this week.
Reported by Tin Zakariya and Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.