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Chance Remains for Election Deal, Lawmaker Says

A scene at a polling station in Kampong Cham town, northeast of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, file photo. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)
A scene at a polling station in Kampong Cham town, northeast of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, file photo. (Heng Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)

PHNOM PENH & WASHINGTON DC - A senior lawmaker says it is not too late for a political agreement between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition, despite an announcement of preliminary election results by the National Election Committee.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yiep told VOA Khmer Wednesday the two sides have until Sept. 8, when the official election results will be announced, to come to an agreement over last month’s election and avoid a political deadlock.

“It’s not late yet,” he said.

Leaders of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party say they will not accept the results of the election without an investigation into allegations of widespread fraud.

Kouy Bunroeun, a top Rescue Party official, said what the NEC must now do is invite the two sides for talks to discuss the irregularities, “for the sake of easing political tension.”

NEC officials say it is too late to resolve reports of irregularities, since it has now released preliminary results—which show a win for the CPP.

“There is no room for meetings,” NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said, adding that the agency was following the election law in releasing Monday’s results.

Rights groups and election monitors say the surprising release of the results, in the midst of negotiations over alleged irregularities, increased the political tension in the country. Already armored vehicles and an increase in the presence of security personnel have many Cambodians worried over the prospect of post-election violence.

Thun Saray, head of the rights group Adhoc and board director for the election-monitoring group Comfrel, recalled the 2003 elections, where disputes led to a yearlong deadlock. To avoid something similar, both sides need to talk more, he said.

The NEC should have checked with both parties before issuing the preliminary results, he said, and it should have taken into account suggestions from election monitors and other groups.

“We regret the NEC did it like this,” he said. “It’s just likely to make the negotiation process decreased.”

More talks should proceed between the two parties, he said, to avoid “controversy” in the near future. “This is a danger for our entire nation and entire society, which is why we are all worried,” he said.

Opposition lawmakers have threatened to boycott the opening of the National Assembly in coming weeks, leading to the possibility of political deadlock over the legal formation of a new government.

Opposition officials also say they will plan to stage mass demonstrations if a resolution is not found.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear how the situation can now be resolved. Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst, told VOA Khmer that the two sides must find a solution without expecting the help of outside countries or organizations.

“In democratic countries, whatever can be solved peacefully, that’s normal,” she said. “I still have confidence that both political parties may have an acceptable solution.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said any resolution to the crisis should be undertaken while respecting “the integrity of the NEC.”

The government meanwhile has a responsibility to ensure “public order,” he said. “The people do not want to see protests happen.”

But opposition officials say they want irregularities investigated. On Wednesday, party leaders submitted more than 10 complaints to the NEC, while refuse to concede to the preliminary results. The complaints include those from 15 provinces of irregularities that took place during Election Day.

Kouy Bunreoun of the Rescue Party told reporters Wednesday that opposition estimates show the party winning the election with 63 of 123 National Assembly seats. The CPP has said it won the election 68 to 55.

Kouy Bunreoun called on the NEC to release Election Day documentation, including the packages that held the votes, all reports about those votes, reports on vote counting and reports on checked votes. Failure to disclose voting information could result in a failure of confidence in the election process by the Cambodian people, he said.