Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Wednesday that the CNRP will renew mass demonstrations if the ruling CPP continues to reject a proposal to make the membership of the National Election Committee (NEC) more representative.
Speaking to supporters in Thbong Khmom province, which was recently created from an eastern portion of Kompong Cham province, Mr. Rainsy issued his protest warning after Monday’s second joint-party meeting on election reform stalled over the CPP’s rejection of the CNRP’s proposal that two-thirds of National Assembly lawmakers be required to agree on the appointment of new NEC members.
The NEC’s leadership is currently handpicked by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP. The CPP has said it will not consider the opposition’s proposal, which would end its control over the composition of the election organizing body.
Mr. Rainsy also said that his party will not attend next Monday’s meeting with the CPP if the proposal to reform the NEC is not accepted.
“First, we stop negotiations,” Mr. Rainsy said in a video of the event that was posted to his Facebook page.
“They [the CPP] just wants to waste our time cheating foreigners—not Cambodians, as Cambodians know this well.”
“They make [foreigners] confused that we are getting along and are in the process of negotiations, [so they can ask] ‘please give us [aid] money,’” he said.
“So we stop negotiations and tell foreigners not to give money to these thieves. If they don’t agree to change the NEC, it means that they want to steal votes so there can be no talk. When they change the NEC, we will talk.”
Demonstrations will be the only alternative, Mr. Rainsy added.
“We will prepare another demonstration,” he said.
“At the next demonstration, I think there will be at least 2 million people. So, people, please be ready to hold a historic demonstration with 2 million people.”
Mr. Rainsy has said that the neutrality of the NEC can only be ensured by requiring both political parties to agree on NEC members.
By refusing to consider the proposal, he says, the CPP has shown it is not serious about reform.
Cheam Yeap, a senior ruling party lawmaker who emerged from Monday’s failed meeting with the CNRP bearing news of plans by his ruling party to ban dual nationals from running for prime minister, slammed Mr. Rainsy’s speech.
“It is his right to call a demonstration but I think that he must instruct his 55 lawmakers to come to the National Assembly to serve the interests of the country—if he is brave enough,” Mr. Yeap said. “Demonstrations are not a solution.”
Mr. Yeap also reiterated that the CPP would not consider the CNRP’s proposal to reform the NEC, saying the much-criticized committee was not in need of any reform.
Separately Wednesday, the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA), a coalition of 20 human rights NGOs, met and criticized the break down of the recent bipartisan election reform talks after only the second meeting on Monday.
At Monday’s meeting, when the CNRP raised the issue of NEC neutrality, the CPP switched track to focus on the neutrality of civil society organizations.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that the CNRP’s proposal, which the CPP has rejected outright, should at least be considered by the CPP, as it would benefit both parties.
Mr. Panha explained that a politically neutral NEC could help legitimize future election results.
“To have faith in the NEC, the key political parties that have parliamentary seats should be able to meet and unanimously agree on the procedure of choosing…the members of the NEC,” Mr. Panha said.
Yong Kim Eng, the director of the People Center for Development and Peace, which advocates for rule of law and democracy, said at the ERA meeting that if the two parties were truly committed to reform they should agree to first focus only on areas that both parties had agreed upon in their first meeting on March 3.
“The meeting of the two parties must not happen just once a week,” he said. “If they cannot make an agreement in the morning, they must keep meeting in the evening and the next day…and again and again until they get fruitful results.”
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