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Cablegate: The Deputy Secretary's Meeting with Cambodian

VZCZCXRO3653
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0776/01 2600926
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 160926Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000776

SIPDIS

STATE FOR D, P, DRL, EAP/MLS
NSC FOR L. PHU

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/16/2018
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PREL PHUM KTIA CB
SUBJECT: THE DEPUTY SECRETARY'S MEETING WITH CAMBODIAN
OPPOSITION PARTY LEADERS

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 763
B. PHNOM PENH 705
C. PHNOM PENH 629
D. PHNOM PENH 611

Classified By: CHARGE D'AFFAIRES PIPER CAMPBELL FOR REASONS 1.4 (B, D)

1. (U) September 15, 2008; 13:30; Phnom Penh, Cambodia

2. (U) Meeting Participants

U.S.
The Deputy Secretary
Deputy Assistant Secretary Scot Marciel
Charge D'Affaires, a.i. Piper Campbell
A/DCM Greg Lawless (notetaker)

Opposition Parties
Sam Rainsy, President, Sam Rainsy Party
Kem Sokha, President, Human Rights Party

3. (C) SUMMARY: In an alternately strident critique of the
newly elected government and an impassioned plea to further
develop democracy in Cambodia, opposition party leaders Sam
Rainsy and Kem Sokha September 15 explained to the Deputy
Secretary that their parties would boycott the initial
session of the National Assembly on September 24. Though
acknowledging the elections were less violent, they outlined
a litany of complaints about election rigging. An immediate
concern expressed by Sam Rainsy was the Cambodian Peoples
Party's (CPP) announcement that all of the parliament's nine
committee chairmanships would go to CPP. Rainsy averred that
the CPP was unwilling to talk about committee assignments in
advance of the first parliamentary session. He explored the
possibility of arranging for a brokered deal of the
opposition parties' committee positions. Kem Sokha outlined
a long-term goal for further reforms. Expressing concern
that the CPP was trying to eliminate the opposition, Rainsy
insisted that the current government was in violation of the
spirit of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement and that it had
built a "facade of democracy." For that reason, the
opposition would boycott. Prime Minister Hun Sen confirmed
the same day that the opposition might lose committee seats
by boycotting, but would not be stripped of their National
Assembly seats. END SUMMARY.

SRP to Boycott Opening National Assembly Session
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (C) Noting that the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights
Party were the second and third largest parties in the
National Assembly, Rainsy said that the minority parties in
Cambodia had no rights in the Cambodian system, as they would
in other parliamentary systems. Noting that the CPP would
take all the committee chairmanships, he said that the
National Assembly is a "Party assembly." In the upcoming
first session of the new National Assembly elected last July
27, the CPP would propose a package vote for the national
assembly leadership and for the new government. Such a vote
was "anti-democratic," said Rainsy. Moreover, election
irregularities were not addressed properly. Since the
opposition did not want to endorse an undemocratic and
illegitimate government, they would boycott the first session
of the new National Assembly. Rainsy alluded to an earlier
CPP statement that the Sam Rainsy party might be stripped of
its National Assembly seats if it boycotted the first session
and worried the CPP was trying to eliminate the opposition.
(NOTE: Prime Minister Hun Sen September 15 confirmed private
CPP statements (Ref A) that the CPP would not strip the SRP
of its parliamentary seats but that SRP would be on no
committees if its members did not participate in the
swearing-in ceremony. Further, the SRP parliamentarians
would not be paid their MP salaries. PM Hun Sen told the
press, "I don't want the (SRP) seats divided among other
parties." END NOTE.)

5. (C) Citing the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, Rainsy said
that it was a very good instrument to address Cambodia's
internal and external problems. He said that the agreement
could ensure governmental integrity and that Cambodia follow
a democratic path. Cambodia is at a turning point and its
people were looking to the U.S. for support for the
democratic process, he added. Democracy was being perverted,
and was moving further and further from the Paris Peace
Agreement.

Reforms of the NEC, More Checks and Balances
--------------------------------------------

PHNOM PENH 00000776 002 OF 002

6. (C) Kem Sokha outlined a long-term goal for further
reforms of the election law and the National Election
Committee (NEC), for constitutional support for a balance of
power, and for the conferral of a more explicit "status" for
the opposition in parliament. Noting past U.S. support for
democracy and governance programs in Cambodia, he urged more
support for the UN Center of Human Rights and for NGO's and
civil society.

7. (C) In answer to several questions by the Deputy
Secretary, Rainsy averred that the election complaints
mechanism was biased and that the NEC could not be a neutral
arbiter. Kem Sokha said that he would like to see a more
independent and neutral NEC. Rainsy noted that the EU and
UNDP would be releasing assessments of the election in
October, hinting these would be negative. (NOTE: The EU
released its initial assessment of the pre-election and
election period just two days after the election. END NOTE.)
In the end, what Rainsy wanted most was not a correction to
the election, but recognition for a minority party role in
the National Assembly.

U.S. in Broker Role?
--------------------

8. (C) Noting that former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Kent
Wiedemann had helped Sam Rainsy negotiate with CPP leaders
the building of a memorial at the site of a 1997 grenade
attack against the Sam Rainsy Party, Sam Rainsy appealed to
the U.S. to now build a bridge with the CPP "as a peace
partner." Otherwise, in 10 days Cambodia could undergo a
political crisis. Kem Sokha reiterated the appeal for U.S.
assistance, noting his party's commitment to work within
Cambodia's legal and electoral framework.

9. (C) The Deputy Secretary asked if there might be a
difference of perception regarding the conduct of the
election and suggested there might be a role for the
opposition on the various committees in the National
Assembly. (NOTE: When SRP joined the National Assembly in
1998, it had two members on each of the nine committees. END
NOTE.) Rainsy insisted he would have no power without
Committee Chairmanship positions, which were in themselves
difficult to manage under an overwhelming majority. Without
an active opposition with a meaningful role to put a brake on
government excesses or find solutions to the population's
pressing needs, the people would be "ripe for revolt," he
concluded.
CAMPBELL

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