Political deadlock ends in Cambodia

Opposition detainees released following high-level talks
Political deadlock ends in Cambodia

The result of last year's general election was widely denounced amid accusations of widespread vote-rigging. File picture: AFP Photo/Tang Chhin Sothy

Nearly a year after Cambodia’s contentious 2013 National Election, the country’s opposition and ruling parties have struck a deal, putting an end to 11 months of political deadlock.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday following a half-day meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen, opposition president Sam Rainsy and senior politicians from both sides, the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) announced they had agreed to a “political resolution”.

“The two parties agree on a political resolution by working together at the National Assembly... in order to reach a solution for any national issue in accordance with democracy and the state of law,” read the statement, signed by the six-member negotiation committee.

Among the seven points agreed are a reorganization of government committees, a review of the Senate leadership and discussion of a new election date. But the cornerstone is a reshuffling of the frequently criticized National Election Committee to better ensure its neutrality.

Though ostensibly independent, the committee has long been dominated by ruling-party aligned members, making impartial adjudication of electoral disputes all but impossible. The new committee is to include four members from each party and a ninth elected by parliamentarians.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he could not say precisely when the party would take its seats but said: "We have to do it very soon”.

First, however, it is necessary "to implement the agreement signed this morning”.

"Now, the working group is doing their jobs – implementing the laws, amending the articles. A lot of things need to be implemented," he said.

Last year the CNRP dismissed the results of the July 28 election – which saw them win 55 seats to the CPP’s 68 – and accused the ruling party of stealing the election. In September, when the new government was installed, the opposition began its boycott along with a campaign of protracted protests calling for re-elections, UN intervention, and a slew of other demands.

The government, for its part, responded with growing pressure and crackdowns on dissent. In January, after garment strikes turned violent, a ban was placed on freedom of assembly and rallies were quashed with often heavy-handed force. At least seven people have died in the past year, scores have been injured, and dozens arrested by the increasingly authoritarian government.        

One week ago, eight opposition officials – including prominent lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua – were arrested and charged with incitement and insurrection after an opposition rally turned violent, with supporters attacking dozens of notoriously-brutal security guards.

Widely termed political hostages, the group was released on bail at about 5pm Tuesday, just hours after the negotiations were inked. 

Defense lawyer Sam Sokong said all eight were set to be freed.

“I am at the prison now, waiting for the judge to come with the papers to release all of them this afternoon,” he said. “I am not sure, but I hear from the others that all of them will be released today in the evening.”

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