The two rival parties claiming victory in Cambodia’s general election reached an agreement Saturday with the state National Election Committee to investigate polling irregularities, a move that could pave the way to ending the country’s political deadlock.

NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha announced 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 contends that provisional results show it won 68 parliamentary seats to the opposition’s 55 in the July 28 election, while the opposition claims there was widespread cheating and that it won a 63-seat majority.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power for 28 years, has made clear that he believes the final results, due in mid-August, will favour him and that he will have another five-year term in office. With his overpowering influence over the state apparatus and the judiciary, he is almost certain to have his way.

There had been speculation that opposition lawmakers might try to block the formation of a new government by failing to take their seats in the 123-seat National Assembly and denying the body a quorum, which some interpret to mean the presence of at least 120 members.

“There will be no deadlock for the new National Assembly and the forming of new government. I will be the prime minister for the fifth five-year term of the government,” Hun Sen told villagers in Kandal province, which borders Phnom Penh, the capital.

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.

If the body agrees that there were flaws in the election process, it could initiate reforms for which the opposition could take credit, keeping its promise of fighting a long-haul struggle for democracy.

The opposition has charged that more than 1 million people may have been unable to vote in the election because their names were not put on voting rolls despite having registered. There are also charges of people being registered despite being ineligible. It 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, the election committee head, told reporters that the new body would be set up in the near future, comprising members only from the Cambodian People’s Party and Cambodia National Rescue Party working with the NEC. He said the United Nations and civil society groups would be invited as observers, not members.

Tep Nytha said Saturday’s meeting represented progress, with both sides willing to talk and work together. He said the committee’s work would give voters confidence about the election results.

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.

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