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Cambodian opposition almost ready to end boycott

April 10, 2014

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia’s opposition leader said Thursday his party was close to reaching an agreement with the government that would end the party’s boycott of Parliament, but that there were still unresolved issues keeping a deal from being signed right away.

Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy said talks with leaders of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had been held for the past two days but they were not able to finalize a deal, due mostly to a disagreement on when an early election should be held.

He said, however, that he hopes the two sides can reach a deal on political reforms in the near future, saying there was agreement on 80 or 90 percent of the matters under consideration. He spoke after Prime Minister Hun Sen said he hoped a deal could be signed Friday.

The opposition has challenged the results of last July’s general election, alleging it was rigged by the ruling party.

Sam Rainsy said his party could not agree with Hun Sen’s proposal that the next general election be held in February 2018, pushed up from a scheduled July 2018 date. The opposition wants earlier polls, he said.

“We have agreed on several points, important points. There is one remaining point,” Sam Rainsy said at a news conference. “I think that the remaining point will be resolved in the near future. It is a matter of days, or at most weeks. So I remain cautiously optimistic. I think that if each side makes a gesture, then we will come to a comprehensive agreement in the very near future.”

Another hitch is that the deputy opposition leader, Kem Sokha, is in the United States and unable to endorse the deal right away, Sam Rainsy said.

Eng Chhai Eang, a spokesman for the opposition party and a member of Parliament, earlier told The Associated Press that the two party leaders had agreed on reforms of the state election body and broadcasting rules, so as to allow the opposition its own television and radio stations. He cited Hun Sen saying that a February 2018 election date would allow voting to take place in better weather, with no likelihood of tropical rains.

Hun Sen had said the draft agreement was under preparation, and that he hoped it would be signed Friday in front of King Norodom Sihamoni at the Royal Palace.

The opposition initially demanded an independent investigation into last July’s polls, and refused to take their seats in Parliament when the government would not agree to the probe. They have been protesting for several months and demanding that Hun Sen step down and call new elections.

The official election results extended Hun Sen’s 28-year rule by giving his party 68 seats in the National Assembly, compared to 55 for the Cambodia National Rescue Party — a significant boost over the 29 seats the opposition held in the previous Parliament.

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