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Opposition Gives Hard Deadline for Political Negotiations

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, shakes hands with opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, right, after a meeting, as Sar Kheng, center, deputy prime minister, looks on at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013.
PHNOM PENH - The Cambodia opposition says it is holding firm to a threat to boycott the Sept. 23 opening session of parliament, potentially stalling the formation of a new government, if a political solution is not found by Sept. 22, as leaders from both sides met for a second day Tuesday.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party has said election irregularities cost it a win at the polls July 28, and while ruling party officials say they are willing to find ways to improve the electoral system, they also say such reforms will take time.

Some 10,000 opposition supporters held a third day of mass demonstrations on Tuesday, gathering at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh to continue pressing for political reforms.

“We will not attend the first parliamentary opening, unless we receive a proper solution that represents the people’s will,” Rescue Party President Sam Rainsy told the crowd. “So long as there is not a proper solution, we’ll keep demanding it in order to render justice to voters. Supporters should be proud that your leaders, the leaders of [the Rescue Party], will not betray your will.”

The opposition has said as many as 1.2 million voters were unable to cast ballots in the July 28 election, due to election irregularities and fraud. Opposition officials were also not satisfied with the handling of their complaints by the National Election Committee and the Constitutional Council, two governmental bodies the opposition says are biased toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Prince Sisowath Thomico, a senior Rescue Party official, told the gathering on Tuesday that the ruling CPP had organized a false election, then deployed tanks in the streets ahead of the announced result.

“What is that called?” he said. “Is it legal? No. So it’s a coup.”

Demonstrations were peaceful on Tuesday, following violent clashes with police on Sunday that left one man dead.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the government to thoroughly investigate the killing of a motorist on a bridge, where civilians and police clashed over a barricade meant to cordon off protesters.

“A peaceful day of protest turned ugly when the Cambodian security forces used excessive force against protesters,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement. “The country’s election impasse should be resolved by an independent investigation into claims of election fraud and irregularities—not by security forces attacking protesters.”

Following Tuesday’s meetings between the ruling and opposition parties, which included Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy, officials said they remained hopeful a deal could be struck to move forward.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Rescue Party, told reporters after the meeting both sides had “moved closer to end the deadlock.” However, he said there would be no fast solution to the institutional problems of Cambodia’s electoral system. “We need time to reform,” he said.

Prak Sokhon, secretary of state for the Cabinet Ministry, told reporters that both sides had come to an understanding on many points. “We need to step back and discuss for a while, and when we’ve found a formula to reduce the gap, we will hold a summit meeting again,” he said.

Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Tuesday’s meeting showed some positive results, including an agreement to reform the National Election Committee and to reduce post-election tensions. He said he hoped both parties would agree to reform major institutions as talks progress.