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Opposition Standing Firm on Election Reform Demand

Sam Rainsy, front center, the head of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) waves to the crowd before entering Phnom Penh Municipality Court in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy says his party will not lift its boycott of parliament until election reform takes place.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party is in talks with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to resolve a prolonged political deadlock after the July 2013 elections, and both sides have agreed in principle to look into election reform.

But on a post to Facebook fans Thursday, Sam Rainsy said the opposition “absolutely” would not join the National Assembly until the election reform issue is resolved.

Chheang Von, a negotiator for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the demands from Sam Rainsy and the Cambodia National Rescue Party are political. Sam Rainsy should not raise such issues publicly in the midst of negotiations, he said.

Some political analysts say negotiations are making headway toward electoral reform. But problems remain in other sectors, such as a media environment widely biased toward the ruling party.

Both sides agreed on Monday to reform the electoral system at that national, provincial and local commune levels, after a months of wrangling over the election.

Reform in the electoral bodies at each level could mean more independence within each, Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Monday. “They play an important role in ensuring an electoral system acceptable to all.”

The two sides also have agreed to reform financing rules for political parties, to establish a better election dispute mechanism and to reform the media landscape.

Ou Virak said that media outlets, especially television, tend to align themselves with the ruling party, for fear of losing their license otherwise. This “makes them become a propaganda network for the ruling party,” he said.

The National Election Committee, for its part, says it has undergone three legal amendments since elections in 1998, establishing its independence. So any more changes must be done through laws.

“Officials there are mostly specialists in law and elections,” NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said. “Therefore, any changes must be according to the law.”