PHNOM PENH — Cambodia’s opposition party has agreed to work with the government to probe alleged election fraud, the party said Saturday, in an apparent step toward ending a political impasse since last week’s disputed poll. An investigating committee will bring together representatives from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen, both of which claim election victory. CNRP representative Kuy Bunroeun confirmed the party had agreed in principle to join the committee, without giving further details. Hun Sen’s ruling party last Sunday claimed it had secured an estimated 68 of the 123 lower house seats, defeating the CNRP which won 55. But the CNRP has said it won the poll, rejecting the CPP results on the grounds of widespread voting irregularities, and has vowed to press for nationwide protests unless an independent probe with U.N. participation is launched. But demands for the U.N. to sit on the investigating panel will not be met, according to Tep Nytha of the National Election Committee (NEC), which will head the probe. Instead the U.N., local and international representatives will only “have the right to observe the process,” he added. The apparent climbdown by the CNRP offers a possible pathway through a political deadlock which has seen the two parties trade accusations over the last week. “This is a good decision that would calm voters’ minds,” Tep Nytha added. On Friday, the U.N. said that disputes over the election must be “adjudicated fairly” but added it had not yet been asked to join any inquiry. The United States also urged a probe of alleged misconduct in Cambodia’s election but said that opposition gains marked a positive step toward democracy. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy — who was barred from running as a parliamentary candidate — has claimed his party won a majority of 63 seats.
On Saturday, he repeated a vow to prevent the CPP “stealing victory” by allegedly culling 1.25 million legitimate votes from the electoral roll and adding more than a million “ghost names” and duplicates to the voter list. “Bad people have stolen the votes and want to steal our victory too. We will not let them to do so,” he said in a video posted on the CNRP’s official website. Hun Sen has welcomed a probe but has also vowed to establish a government under his leadership if the opposition refused to join parliament.
Hun Sen, 60, a former Khmer Rouge cadre who defected from the murderous regime, has vowed to rule until he is 74. The premier — who has been in power for 28 years — is regularly accused of ignoring human rights and muzzling political freedoms.