News / Asia

Cambodia’s Eight-month Political Deadlock Shows Hints of Ending

FILE - Opposition leader Sam Rainsy (white shirt, right), and deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha (left) wave to people watching the march, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Robert Carmichael/VOA).
FILE - Opposition leader Sam Rainsy (white shirt, right), and deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha (left) wave to people watching the march, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Robert Carmichael/VOA).
Robert Carmichael
Talks between Cambodia’s ruling party and the opposition to resolve the impasse over last year’s election have been deadlocked for months. The two sides disagree on a number of issues, most significantly reform of the National Election Committee (NEC). But signs of a thaw have emerged, and a meeting between the leaders of the two parties looks increasingly likely.
 
Cambodia has been in a state of political paralysis since July’s disputed general election, in which the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, shocked the ruling party when it won nearly half of the votes and 55 of the 123 seats in parliament.
 
The opposition insists it was cheated of victory by the ruling Cambodian People's Party, and has refused to seat its 55 lawmakers-elect until there is an independent investigation into alleged irregularities or a new election.
 
The opposition also wants to change the NEC, whose members are effectively appointed by the ruling party. The opposition wants NEC appointments to instead be subject to a two-thirds vote in parliament, giving it veto power to block members it opposes.
 
In a bid to step up pressure, the CNRP said in recent days that beginning in May, it will hold daily demonstrations nationwide in the run-up to district and provincial elections scheduled for May 18.
 
Opposition chief whip Son Chhay, the man leading the CNRP’s negotiating team, said dialogue remains the preferred option.
 
“So I think when we still cannot find any solution to settle the political crisis, the CNRP would be looking for working with the public to demand the ruling party to commit themselves to solve the problem. So that is a second option. But at the moment we’re still working on a political compromise or solution to the crisis. So I hope that we could reach some sort of agreement before May,” said Chhay.
 
Agreement might be closer than it appeared only days ago. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng indicated that a meeting between the leaders of the two parties is under discussion. It would be the first such meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy since their summit in September, which ended with a vague agreement on electoral reform.
 
Until now, the ruling party has dismissed the opposition’s key demands, instead drafting a list of its own requirements, including that election-monitoring NGOs be more strictly controlled.  After the last round of failed talks, the ruling party's chief negotiator said his side was prepared to push ahead with its own reforms of the NEC.
 
However, long-time human rights activist and political commentator Ou Virak said, that sort of one-sided approach is unlikely to prove successful because the ruling party knows how close it came to losing last year’s vote.
 
“Well I think that’s the only way if they are to have legitimacy and prevent future election disputes as the one we have seen now. If there’s no confidence in the NEC, there’s no confidence in the election process, then you will be bound to continue repeating the impasse after every election,” said Ou.
 
Corruption, land grabbing, low wages and a lack of jobs are among the reasons many Cambodians voted for the opposition. Post-election demonstrations saw tens of thousands march in the capital calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to quit - an unprecedented outcry against three decades of his rule.
 
In response, authorities have banned public gatherings and jailed nearly two-dozen protesters. In January, authorities shot dead at least four garment workers who were protesting for a higher minimum wage. The garment sector, with around 500,000 employees, is the country’s key industry.
 
Ou said the ruling party, with an eye on the Arab Spring, knows it needs to shore up its legitimacy among the Cambodian people.
 
“So public opinion now matters more than ever before, and I think the ruling party is going to try to seek that. Basically this is an unknown, unfamiliar territory for the ruling party where they are forced to actually care about Cambodian public opinion,” said Ou.
 
Although that provides the opposition with some leverage, he said, they must push for specific goals for electoral reform as well as loosening state control over radio and television outlets.
 
“So if they hold out for that, then that would give them a bit of a fairer playing field. It’s never going to be fair in Cambodia. But I think that will give them a bit more of a chance in the upcoming elections. I think they should go into parliament if they can get these key concessions,” said Ou.
 
Looking ahead, Ou Virak doesn’t believe the ruling party has the capacity to reform quickly enough to win the 2018 election fairly. But that is only half the battle for the opposition: its challenge will be to prove to the Cambodian people that it constitutes a credible alternative.

You May Like

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid