Cambodia Opposition Drops Boycott After PM Makes Rare Deal

By Prak Chan Thul 23 July 2014

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia’s opposition on Tuesday agreed to drop a parliamentary boycott following talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen, ending a year-long deadlock and easing political tension stemming from a disputed 2013 election.

The decision came during a four-hour meeting between Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), after the prime minister guaranteed his longtime adversary a greater political stake in two crucial institutions.

“From now on, there’s a balance of power between the ruling party and the other party that has seats in parliament,” CNRP lawmaker-elect Yim Sovann, told a news conference.

The talks also resulted in the release on bail of eight CNRP members detained last week on charges of leading an insurrection by trying to reopen a protest venue closed by the government, during which dozens were injured.

The deal could represent some kind of breakthrough in Cambodia’s bitter political conflict, which has seen some of the biggest street rallies in the country’s history, and several violent crackdowns on Hun Sen’s opponents, including garment factory workers allied with a CNRP promising higher wages.

CNRP lawmakers-elect had refused to take up seats won in a July 28 election last year after authorities rejected their demand for an independent inquiry into alleged vote-rigging by Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The opposition says CPP used its influence to thwart any probe.

CPP agreed to overhaul the country’s politicised National Election Committee and install some CNRP members on the panel. CNRP would be granted greater parliamentary clout, including a deputy speaker position, said CPP representative Prum Sokha.

“These are all political agreements and to enforce all these, we will need to make all these into laws,” he said, adding there had been no deal on an early election and both parties would work out a date for the next ballot, most likely in February 2018.

Concessions by Hun Sen have been rare during his three-decade-long domination of Cambodian politics.

They come a year after the once feeble opposition renamed and revamped itself to mount an unprecedented electoral challenge that stunned Hun Sen and trimmed CPP’s parliamentary majority.

The CNRP still insists it won, and rejects the official result that gave it 55 seats, versus 68 for the CPP.

Political analyst Ou Virak said he was skeptical about an agreement he called vague and anticipated the situation would stay precarious.

“It’s a temporary deal to end the stalemate. The CPP got what it wants, the opposition going to the parliament,” Ou Virak said. “I expect continued wrangling in the future.”