The two rival parties claiming victory in Cambodia's general election have agreed to let the state National Election Committee (NEC) investigate alleged polling irregularities.
Tep Nytha, NEC Secretary-General, announced on Saturday an agreement in principle to form an independent investigative body after meeting with senior members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The ruling party contended that provisional results showed it won 68 parliamentary seats to the opposition's 55 in the July 28 election, but the opposition said there was widespread cheating and that it won a 63-seat majority.
Tep Nytha said that the UN and civil society groups would be invited as observers, not members, of the new body, which he said would be set up soon.
He said that it would comprise members of the Cambodian People's Party and Cambodia National Rescue Party working with the NEC.
Hun Sen, the prime minister, has made clear he believed that the final results, due in mid-August, would favour him extending his 28 years in power.
With his overpowering influence over the state apparatus and the judiciary, he is almost certain to have his way, according to commentators.
There had been speculation that opposition politicians might try to block the formation of a new government by failing to take their seats in the 123-seat National Assembly and deny the body a quorum, which some
interpret to mean the presence of at least 120 members.
Electoral fraud allegations
However, Hun Sen said on Friday that the constitution allowed the assembly to open and appoint a new government without the opposition's participation.
He said the failure of opposition politicians to take their seats could result in their forfeiting them to the ruling party.
"There will be no deadlock for the new National Assembly and the forming of new government," Hun Sen told villagers in Kandal province, which borders Phnom Penh, the capital.
"I will be the prime minister for the fifth five-year term of the government.''
While the establishment of the investigative body is unlikely to have any substantive effect, it could serve as a way for the two parties to reach a face-saving accord and avoid possible chaos if Hun Sen takes office without
the opposition's acquiescence.
The opposition has charged that more than one million people might have been unable to vote in the election because their names were not put on voting rolls despite having registered.
There were also allegations of people being registered despite being ineligible.
The opposition had called for setting up an independent probe, but the agreement reached on Saturday falls short of what it wanted, which was the inclusion of Cambodian and foreign civil society groups.
Tep Nytha said Saturday's meeting represented progress, with both sides being willing to talk and work together.
"This is a good decision that would calm voters' minds," Tep Nytha said.
The committee's preliminary tally of the popular vote showed Hun Sen's party with 3,227,729 votes and the opposition with 2,941,133.
Six other parties that ran far behind shared fewer than half a million votes.