Negotiations between the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP over an investigation into election irregularities stalled Monday after the National Election Committee (NEC) released official preliminary election results that supported the ruling party’s claim of victory in the July 28 election.
In an initial round of talks at the National Assembly on Friday, representatives of the two parties agreed that the U.N. could monitor the investigation into what the CNRP claims was widespread manipulation of voter lists and outright fraud engineered by the CPP and the NEC.
But the two sides failed to come to an agreement over the composition of a body that would actually conduct an investigation and act as a mediator between the two parties to break the current political impasse.
The lead negotiators for both parties said Monday they were waiting for the other side to make the next move, and were unsure of when talks between the two parties would resume.
“I don’t think the NEC would dare make such a decision [to release election results] without consulting with the CPP. If that is the case, there is no doubt that the CPP has changed their strategies from displaying to the public that they are likely to commit themselves to an investigation,” said CNRP chief whip Son Chhay.
Mr. Chhay said that the two parties agreed during Friday’s talks to sideline the NEC, which is widely viewed as being CPP-aligned, and return to their respective camps to discuss with their party leaders what their conditions would be for the formation of an investigative body before holding further talks.
“We hope that it is true when the CPP says they need to discuss with leaders and then come back to [the] table with the name of an organization or expert to be appointed to the investigating body. We are still waiting for that. We are waiting for CPP to keep their promise and talk to us,” Mr. Chhay said.
But senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, the party’s lead negotiator in the talks, said the CPP had already submitted a list of candidates—all members of the ruling party—to the NEC and was now waiting for the CNRP to submit its recommendations.
“We are now waiting for the NEC to call us to meet,” Mr. Yeap said, refuting Mr. Chhay’s claim that the CPP had agreed to join an investigation outside the authority of the NEC.
“I have never agreed with him [Mr. Chhay] to reject the NEC from the committee. I had two arguments [with him]: whether or not to allow the U.N. to chair the committee [and whether to reject the NEC]. I don’t trust the U.N., Mr. Chhay said he doesn’t trust the NEC,” he said, adding that the CPP had fulfilled its obligations in the negotiations by sending a list of prospective commission members to the NEC.
“I have no duties to send the list to the CNRP. We agreed to use the NEC as the chairman. The CPP is the winning party. We are not the CNRP’s subordinate. We respect the NEC only,” Mr. Yeap said.
In response to Mr. Yeap’s comments, Mr. Chhay said that Mr. Yeap “changed the whole story” about what actually transpired during negotiations on Friday.
“That is completely different from what he himself promised. At the end of our conversations, we concluded that the NEC cannot take part in any investigation into their wrongdoings. A more independent body needs to be created,” Mr. Chhay said.
“If they change their minds [about how to proceed in negotiations] they have to let us know rather than keep us waiting. How can we trust them in further talks if they change the whole story without informing us?” Mr. Chhay said.
Mr. Yeap said that Mr. Chhay and the CNRP were simply reverting to “their culture of being losers who never accept anything.”
“This is just their costume—they always make complaints and demands when their party loses.”
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Monday the NEC had invited the two sides to talks but the CNRP “did not show up,” leading to the separate talks on Friday at the National Assembly without the participation of the NEC.
“Firstly, the NEC made an invitation and announcement to call all parties to attend the meeting to create a joint committee. As a result, the CPP sent the list of candidates while the CNRP released a statement calling for another independent organization to help form the committee without the presence of the NEC,” he said.
Shortly after the NEC announced its preliminary figures Monday morning, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith announced on state-owned TVK the CPP’s endorsement of the results, which supported the CPP’s claim to have won 68 out of 123 National Assembly seats.
“As we have seen the results, which were just released by the NEC, it is no different from the votes that we obtained from our officials,” Mr. Kanharith said, claiming that the local CNRP officials had already deemed the elections to be free and fair.
“The CNRP’s representatives in every polling station had to sign to agree that the elections were conducted freely and fairly, and none of them refused. The votes were counted in front of party representatives, how can they say it is not true?” he said.
Mr. Kanharith also criticized the CNRP’s threats to hold mass demonstrations as a last resort if the CPP and NEC refuse to cooperate in an investigation of the election, which CNRP president Sam Rainsy claimed the party won with 63 seats to 60 for the CPP.
“Everyone has agreed to join a discussion around the negotiating table, but why do they want to do demonstrations?” Mr. Kanharith asked.
However, at a press conference Monday morning, CNRP vice president Kem Sokha said that while it rejected the NEC’s preliminary results, the CNRP was still committed to finding a political resolution with the CPP.
“The CNRP will continue to encourage both parties to hold discussions in order to establish a technical committee to settle electoral irregularities with participation from international and national civil society organizations,” Mr. Sokha said.
“We are working it out with the CPP and making progress, but the NEC has released these results to cut the progress. It is like breaking the bridge between both parties in efforts to find a good solution,” he said.
“[By making] this announcement, given the situation, the NEC has to take complete responsibility for any potential uprisings or demonstrations that lead to political unrest,” Mr. Sokha added.
The NEC’s decision to release election results in the midst of talks between the CPP and CNRP was also lambasted by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia and civil society groups in a joint statement issued Monday.
“This decision flies in the face of progress in negotiations between these parties. This attitude does nothing but increase existing tension amongst Cambodia’s disenfranchised voters. During such a tense period the announcement will obviously invite reaction and is potentially destabilizing for the nation,” the statement says.
Mr. Nytha at the NEC said Monday that the NEC was simply following the established time frame for the release of election results outlined by Cambodia’s election law.
“The NEC is only responsible before the election law. If they [the CNRP] are not happy with the result, they can file a complaint to the Constitutional Council,” he said.
Mr. Nytha has previously said that if an appeal is filed, the Constitutional Council of Cambodia, another body with close ties to the ruling CPP, will hand down a decision on final election results by September 8.
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