PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian opposition party lawmakers ended a parliamentary boycott on Wednesday in a bid to ease a feud between their self-exiled leader and the country’s prime minister that threatens to reignite festering political tensions.
The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) has boycotted parliament since October in response to the beatings of two lawmakers, after a pro-ruling party demonstration, which almost shattered a fragile truce between the rival political forces.
The rally led to the removal of CNRP vice president Kem Sokha as deputy house president in a vote that the CNRP boycotted, arguing it was unconstitutional
“We go back to parliament as part of the culture of dialogue and to strengthen the legislature,” CNRP lawmaker Nhem Ponhearith told Reuters.
The “culture of dialogue” refers to a deal the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) struck with CNRP last year to end a year-long house boycott over a disputed 2013 election.
They agreed at the weekend to return to the assembly to jointly review draft laws, in particular, trade union legislation key to governing a crucial but turbulent textiles manufacturing sector.
“CNRP met with representatives of the unions and we need to take their opinions up for discussion in parliament,” CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua told Reuters.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has been in self-imposed exile since an arrest warrant was issued for him on Nov. 12 over an old defamation case for which he had already been pardoned.
Critics have accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of orchestrating the revival of that case.
Sam Rainsy is also charged with forgery and incitement over a Facebook posting alleging Hun Sen’s government had ceded border land to Vietnam. The charges carry a 12-year prison sentence.
Television personality Soy Sopheap, who has acted as a peacemaker between the two leaders, said returning to parliament was the right move.
“This is a sign that the culture of dialogue may not be dead,” he told Reuters. “The question of when Sam Rainsy will be able to return would be easier to answer later.”
Hun Sen is angered by Sam Rainsy’s attempts to discredit him by stirring nationalism, which is pervasive in Cambodia. In Facebook comments on Tuesday, Sam Rainsy showed no signs of a change in tack.
“If we Khmers continue to fight against each other, we will continue to lose our territories and, in the not too distant future, we will lose our country altogether,” he said.
Editing by Martin Petty and Michael Perry