Cambodia opposition ends year-long boycott of parliament

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (second from right) shakes hands with Sam Rainsy (second from left), president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), after a meeting at the Senate in central Phnom Penh on July 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTER
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (second from right) shakes hands with Sam Rainsy (second from left), president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), after a meeting at the Senate in central Phnom Penh on July 22, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia's main opposition party announced Tuesday that it had struck a deal with strongman premier Hun Sen to end its year-long boycott of parliament triggered by a disputed election.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said it had agreed to break the deadlock in return for a promise of electoral reforms.

"Today we have reached a common political resolution to end the political crisis," opposition leader Sam Rainsy told reporters after talks with Hun Sen.

"We have no choice," he added. "The only appropriate way is to end the political crisis and the tense situation." Hun Sen described the deal as a "success".

The CNRP has boycotted parliament since elections in July 2013, accusing Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party of stealing victory with widespread vote-rigging.

Analysts say Rainsy's return to the negotiating table may have been spurred by last week's arrest of the eight CNRP politicians for insurrection over a protest in the capital which saw clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

Rights groups have denounced the charges against the politicians, who could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

As part of their deal, the two main political parties agreed to ask the court handling their case to speed up the procedure so they can seek release on bail.

Hun Sen, 61, is regularly criticised by campaigners for ignoring human rights and stamping out dissent.

A crackdown on striking garment workers in January left four people dead.

Experts said last year's poll loss dealt a major blow to the CNRP which was adamant it had won the election.

However, it also represented a significant parliamentary gain on its performance at the previous vote.

Opposition supporters have staged several major demonstrations against Hun Sen's government.