The opposition on Tuesday appeared to wobble toward an end to its almost five-month boycott of the National Assembly, despite having seemingly achieved no notable concessions from the ruling party.
The CNRP has sat out full National Assembly sessions since May to protest a court case brought against deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha. The party’s president, Sam Rainsy, said last month that the boycott would stand unless a “comprehensive solution to the current political crisis” was found.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith, left, and the CPP spokesman Chheang Vun speak to reporters after a National Assembly permanent committee meeting on Tuesday morning in Phnom Penh. (Khem Sovannara) Prime Minister Hun Sen, however, has said any negotiations with the opposition would only take place after CNRP lawmakers return to the National Assembly.
After a meeting of the Assembly’s permanent committee on Tuesday morning, CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith was asked by a reporter whether the party planned to join Friday’s plenary session in parliament.
“We really hope so,” he replied. “I observe that the situation is quiet, so I hope that the quiet will encourage discussions to solve the problem.”
Chheang Vun, a CPP lawmaker and spokesman, said after the meeting that the ruling party was always happy to get back to work with the opposition.
“We knew that Samdech Techo [Mr. Hun Sen] said that when we join the meeting in the National Assembly, often meeting each other and shaking hands could bring a change,” he said.
“With politics in Cambodia, every time there’s a problem, there’s always a solution.”
However, convictions still stand for Mr. Sokha and Mr. Rainsy, both for charges they say are politically motivated. Mr. Rainsy is living in France to avoid prison, while authorities have said they will not arrest Mr. Sokha until his five-month prison sentence is upheld on appeal.
Eighteen CNRP figures, including a parliamentarian and a senator, have been jailed since May last year—along with a number of activists and human rights defenders—in what is widely seen as a government campaign to suppress dissent. The government says the courts are simply enforcing the law.
Tuesday afternoon, after an internal meeting at the CNRP’s headquarters, senior opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said a final decision on whether to end the boycott would be made this morning.
Senior CNRP lawmaker Pol Ham, center, attends a National Assembly permanent committee meeting in Phnom Penh on Tuesday morning. (Khem Sovannara) “We have not decided yet. In fact, we never rescinded our boycott of the National Assembly,” Mr. Chhay Eang told reporters.
“We have not been going to work in the National Assembly because we’re not happy about taking part in an abuse of the Constitution, especially regarding the abuse of lawmakers’ immunity,” he said, reiterating the party’s original reasons for the boycott.
Last week, the CNRP began to soften its stance, with lawmaker Son Chhay saying the party might return to parliament if the ruling party agreed to reconsider the three judicial law amendments and summon four government ministers for questioning. His conditions left out a previous demand that the case against Mr. Sokha be dropped.
None of the items on Mr. Chhay’s list were included on the agenda for Friday’s National Assembly session.
Asked on Tuesday about whether his party was ending its boycott, Mr. Rainsy said in an email: “Please ask my colleagues in Phnom Penh. They have my full support.”
Ou Virak, an independent political analyst, said it was “an understatement” to say the CNRP was being indecisive.
“The problem is these things keep on repeating,” Mr. Virak said. “They would really benefit by reflecting on their internal decision-making process…. It begs the question whether there’s really a strategy behind any of these decisions.”
The opposition had little to gain by rejoining parliament—or staying out—but it would benefit the CPP by restoring “a semblance of normalcy” to Cambodian politics, Mr. Virak said.
“At the same time, they can walk out again at any time. I wouldn’t really be reading too much into this,” he said, adding that the government had greater concerns, such as plunging rice prices, an unsteady garment sector and a real estate bubble.
(Additional reporting by Michael Dickison)
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