Cambodian political rivals end year-long deadlock

Five-hour meeting produces joint solution

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodian opposition parties said they agreed Tuesday on a joint solution to end a political deadlock and the opposition’s yearlong boycott of the national legislature.

Hun Sen, opposition leader Sam Rainsy and others met for five hours behind closed doors in the third round of talks since lawmakers from Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party boycotted their parliamentary seats following last July’s national elections. The opposition alleged that the polls were rigged, and demanded reforms and new elections.

“It was a success. Now you can applaud,” said Hun Sen, who was seen smiling when walking out of the meeting room.

Rainsy said the two leaders must seek an audience with King Narodom Sihamoni to inform the monarch about the agreement before the 55 lawmakers-elect from his party are sworn in and join the National Assembly.

“We have no choice. The only suitable choice is to end the political crisis, to end the standoff,” Rainsy told reporters.

A joint statement said the parties agreed to work together in the National Assembly in order to solve important issues and to reform some institutions.

“Both parties agreed to do a reforming and strengthening to some major state institutions, especially independent institutions that could serve the benefit of the nation, the people and comply with pluralism democracy,” they said in the statement.

In terms of the legislature’s leadership, the two sides agreed that the president and second vice-president of the National Assembly would be from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and that the first vice-president would come from the opposition CNRP.

Each party will chair five out of 10 commissions in the assembly, according to the statement.

Both parties also said they agreed to change the dates of upcoming elections, but did not say when they would be held. The next general election is scheduled for July 2018.

A few hours after the talks between the two parties, seven opposition lawmakers and another party activist who were detained last week for insurrection were released on bail, said their defence lawyer Sam Kok Kong. The eight were arrested after violence broke out when party members attempted to stage a rally at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.

Hun Sen has been in power for almost three decades and, despite Cambodia being formally democratic, his government is authoritarian and known for intimidating opponents. A strong showing by Rainsy’s party in last year’s elections posed the strongest challenge to Hun Sen in years.