A Change of Guard

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Thursday 27 November 2014

Cambodian Opposition Gets Final Approval to Broadcast Throughout Nation

Sam Rainsy (L) and Kem Sokha (R) speak with RFA in Phnom Penh, Nov. 26, 2014.
The Cambodian government has given the final nod to the main opposition party to operate a radio station and broadcast throughout the country as part of a deal reached in July, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Wednesday.

The government agreed to grant television and radio station licenses to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as part of a July 22 pact that ended a standoff between the two parties following disputed 2013 elections.

“Today the government has given us the right to set up radio stations [in the provinces] to rebroadcast programs [originally aired by stations in the capital] Phnom Penh which are affiliated with the CNRP,” Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service.

Sam Rainsy said that the party will begin working with 93.5 FM Moha Nokor Radio to set up substations in provinces, though he did not provide a timetable for the project’s launching.

As far as a television license is concerned, the opposition leader said that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) informed him Wednesday that it is “still considering the deal.”

Sam Rainsy said the government wants the CNRP to wait until Cambodia's official National Television of Kampuchea (TVK) switches from analog to digital television broadcasting before setting up a station, but he expressed concern that the process would take too long.

“We still have hope [to set one up soon], because we can still use the analog technology—we don’t want to wait a few more years, we want it now,” he said.

While the Ministry of Information has said there are no longer analog licenses available, Sam Rainsy said that certain companies which were granted the licenses had not actually used them to set up stations, and that the CNRP could potentially use one of those to broadcast.

“We will look for an [unused] analog license so we can build a CNRP TV station to broadcast,” he said.

Sam Rainsy said that the CNRP is not currently considering setting up a newspaper and would rather use Facebook and other social media sites to draw additional supporters.

CNRP arrests

Sam Rainsy also told RFA he would hold a meeting with Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng on Thursday to discuss the arrests of four CNRP officials, including party media chief Meach Sovannara, in recent weeks for “inciting violence” during a July 15 protest by party supporters that led to clashes with security forces at Freedom Park in the capital.

The July 22 deal between the CNRP and CPP saw the release of opposition members accused of stoking the violence at Freedom Park, but Hun Sen said last week that they had only been “temporarily freed.”

Hun Sen has claimed that the recent arrests of the four CNRP officials had not broken the terms of the deal and said they would not affect ongoing negotiations between the two parties on electoral reforms.

As part of the July 22 deal, the CPP agreed to reforms of the country’s National Election Committee (NEC), or electoral body, which declared the ruling party victor of last year’s polls, despite claims of widespread irregularities.

Negotiations on electoral reforms have stalled, however, and observers say the recent arrests may be part of a bid by the CPP to force the CNRP to back off its demands for broad changes to the system.

Sam Rainsy said that Thursday’s meeting would also cover the progress of reform talks.

“Tomorrow I will meet with Sar Kheng to discuss election reforms and I hope that we can reach a compromise because we can’t delay this process,” he said.

“We don’t want this to last too long,” he said, adding that the CNRP wants reforms implemented before the country’s next commune-level elections in 2017.

Call for patience

The opposition leader called on his supporters to exercise patience amid the reform negotiations.

“Please compatriots, wait and see the results [of our talks],” he said.

“Though we will not have any results in the short-term, in the end the people will get what they want.”

Sam Rainsy’s plea followed a threat on Monday from his party deputy and number two leader of parliament Kem Sokha that CNRP lawmakers would consider boycotting the legislature if the CPP continues to delay an agreement on electoral reform.

Sources have said that the deadlock in talks occurred after the CPP imposed various conditions denying independent officials a seat in the revamped NEC.

Under the July agreement, the new NEC will consist of nine members—four from each party and one neutral member to serve as tiebreaker—and the two parties are to prepare a joint proposal for parliament to endorse. 

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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