Cambodia’s Opposition Calls for Halt to Foreign Investment, Loans

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Sam Rainsy (1st from L) and Kem Sokha (2nd from L) sit opposite Hun Sen (2nd from R) during talks in Phnom Penh, Sept. 16, 2013.

RFA

Cambodia’s opposition on Tuesday called on the international community to refrain from investing in or providing aid to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government as the two sides remained stalled in talks in a deadlock over disputed national elections.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said in a public statement that it could not guarantee that any agreements made with Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) would be honored if a political resolution to the election dispute saw the CNRP tasked with leading a new government.

The CNRP, if it takes power, “will not recognize or reexamine any loan contracts or investment licenses related to state-provided properties that involve the current government,” the opposition said in a statement obtained by RFA’s Khmer Service.

“The election result is still in question,” it said, due to what the CNRP claims are unresolved irregularities in the July 28 polls.

The government-appointed National Election Committee (NEC) awarded the CPP 68 parliamentary seats to the CNRP’s 55 in the election, but the opposition says it was robbed of victory and wants to examine what it says were widespread voting irregularities.

The CNRP has also slammed the CPP’s unilateral formation of the National Assembly—the country’s parliament—in a move it says has taken Cambodia “back to a one-party system of governance.”

Hun Sen, whose 28-year rule of the country was extended through his party’s victory, has said the formation of parliament was legal and has rejected claims of election irregularities.

Tuesday’s CNRP statement followed a formal request by Hun Sen to a visiting official from China’s Shandong province for agricultural investment in Cambodia’s Kampot province on Monday, according to a report in the Cambodia Daily.

The report quoted Hun Sen’s assistant Eang Sophalleth as saying that the Chinese Communist Party’s provincial Deputy Secretary-General Wang Junmin—traveling in search of investment opportunities in agriculture and tourism—later visited Kampot where he signed a memorandum of understanding between Kampot and Shandong.

He said investors from Shandong looking to start 68 agricultural projects in Cambodia had joined Wang’s delegation, though he declined to elaborate on how much money the potential investors represented.

Talks stalled

Meanwhile, CNRP and CPP officials traded blame on Tuesday for failing to schedule a new round of talks to end the country’s political deadlock.

National Assembly chairman Chheang Von, a senior CPP lawmaker, told RFA’s Khmer Service that ruling party officials are waiting for the opposition to contact them to set up a new round of negotiations following the collapse of their September talks.

“CNRP officials must first come to talk—we must seek a joint formula [to end the deadlock],” he said, reiterating demands from earlier this week that opposition lawmakers take their oaths and join the National Assembly before negotiations can be held.

CNRP lawmakers have been boycotting parliament since the National Assembly’s first post-election sitting in September in protest against the government’s refusal to allow an investigation into the claims of election fraud.

Several rounds of talks between CNRP President Sam Rainsy and Hun Sen held before the National Assembly session ended in failure.

Without any opposition lawmakers in parliament, CPP lawmakers voted unanimously to form a new government and reappoint Hun Sen to another five-year term as prime minister.

Chheang Von slammed the CNRP for “using the media to play up blame” on the CPP for failure to hold talks, adding that “setting demands for the CPP through the media won’t work.”

CNRP officials stood firm on Tuesday on three conditions they outlined a day earlier during a senior party member meeting and which they said the CPP must agree to before opposition members join parliament, spokesman Nhem Ponharith told RFA.

Those demands include the establishment of a committee to investigate election irregularities, reform of the NEC, and the implementation of recommendations from the U.N. and NGOs on electoral and other reforms.

“We maintain our stance before agreeing to participate in talks,” Nhem Ponharith said, adding that the CNRP would wait for the CPP to initiate a schedule for talks when it was ready to accept the demands.

Social commentator Kem Lai told RFA that the CPP should accept the CNRP’s conditions “for the benefit of the country,” warning that a prolonged political deadlock will fuel public anger with the government.

“The people have faced many social injustice issues and what they want now is social change,” he said.

Last week, tens of thousands of supporters joined the CNRP’s rally in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park to back calls for an independent probe into voter fraud.

Demonstrators delivered petitions to the missions of the U.N. and foreign embassies in Cambodia demanding international intervention in the election crisis.

New proposal

In a new approach to breaking the stalemate, nine youth groups and nongovernmental organizations working to promote women in politics released a joint statement on Monday urging the two parties to include female voices in the negotiation process.

Thida Khus, the director of participating NGO Silaka, said the presence of women in talks could prove helpful in breaking the impasse.

“Women can establish an environment of mutual understanding,” she said.

“Women might be able to find an exit to end the political deadlock.”

Chheang Von agreed that women could provide a new perspective for the talks, but added that the decision to include them in the process is up to the leader of each political party.

He said that the senior leaders of each party are mostly men who would find it easier to participate because they had already been involved in previous talks.

CNRP senior official Mu Sochua said that even though women from her party had not previously been assigned to take part in meetings with the CPP, negotiating points had been discussed with female members prior to all talks.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.