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Opposition Confident, Wary as Negotiations Continue

Kem Sokha, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party talks during VOA Khmer's Hello VOA radio call-in show in Washington, DC, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (Men Kimseng/VOA Khmer)

Kem Sokha, the vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, is in Washington this week, seeking support for his party as it negotiates a political deal with its ruling party rival.

The opposition is calling for a electoral reforms and a recall vote, after 2013 polls it says were marred by fraud. But even if early elections are held and the opposition wins, he said, the party must be wary of the transfer of power.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has held power for decades and is not likely to give it up easily, he told “Hello VOA.”

“We must be ready, as we will surely win the election,” he said. “We are concerned, as in 1993, that they will not transfer power and will demand that we share power again.”

The CPP forced a power-sharing agreement with the winner of the 1993 elections, Funcinpec, leading to a government with two prime ministers until 1997, when the CPP consolidated power in a coup.

Kem Sokha said the opposition wants to avoid a similar outcome.

“I’ve requested that the superpower countries, especially all signatory countries to the Paris Peace Accords, think ahead,” he said. “We especially want the United States to play a key role in rallying country like like Japan, the EU, Australia and others to help solve Cambodia’s problems, as they pledged, and to ensure that Cambodia has free and fair elections.”

Kem Sokha will end a two-week trip later this month, after meeting key US officials, including those in Congress, the State Department and the Defense Department. He is also meeting with Rescue Party supporters who have helped fund the opposition.

The Rescue Party is continuing its negotiations with the CPP, though neither side will get 100 percent of its demands, he said. “The CNRP can make a small adjustment, thought not far beyond what the people will,” he said.

Aside from negotiations, the opposition has “three battlegrounds,” he said. It has “public forces” that can rally and demand change, and it has diplomatic options to pressure the ruling party, he said. “Third is justice,” he said. That means seeking justice from the international court, or through the Paris Peace Accords, he said. “The CNRP uses these three together: people power, diplomacy and the international justice system,” he said.

There are major differences between the two sides’ demands, he said, including over election reform, a date for a new election and other issues. Both sides remain at odds over how the National Election Committee should be selected. And the CPP wants a new election in 2018, two years later than the Rescue Party has demanded.

Kem Sokha said the opposition wants to resolve the political stalemate, but it also wants to keep its momentum and support.

“Absolutely our stance needs to respect the will of the people,” he said. “And now that we’re at the final stage of Cambodia’s turning point, if we turn wrongly, like before, we will all die together.”