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Cambodia Still Deadlocked on Forming New Government - 2003-12-15

The Cambodian National Assembly convened Monday for a short session - the first time since the general election in July. But the gathering did little to break the country's political deadlock on forming a new government.

Chea Soth, Cambodia's oldest lawmaker, read out the names of all 123 members of the country's National Assembly Monday morning and then announced that they had confirmed their "validation" to the body. Only five members were absent, including Funcinpec president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is out of the country, but is expected back soon.

The meeting lasted no longer than 15 minutes and no actual work was done. But it was parliament's first session since the July 27 general election.

The inaugural gathering did nothing to break the political stalemate blocking the formation of a new government.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won elections with 73 seats, but failed to gain two thirds of the National Assembly needed to set up a new government. For months it has been not able to agree on terms for a coalition with the royalist Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party - which have formed the Alliance of Democrats. However, in negotiations presided by King Norodom Sihanouk last week, the three parties agreed they would at least convene the National Assembly while negotiations on ending the impasse continue.

Sam Rainsy, head of the party named after himself, told reporters after the ceremony Monday that it was the shortest parliament session he has attended since 1995 when he was fired as finance minister after getting kicked out of Funcinpec.

Funcinpec secretary-general, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, says that two more rounds of talks would be scheduled this week.

The king has grown increasingly impatient with Cambodia's political deadlock, saying he fears for the future of democracy and the monarchy. On Sunday he said, if the deadlock continued for months longer, he would propose a national referendum to alter the constitution so the government would only need a simple majority in the legislature.