The head of the Human Rights Party said United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had urged the party to merge with the Sam Rainsy Party during talks with opposition leaders this week.
Clinton met the opposition for about 40 minutes on Monday.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said afterwards that she had encouraged opposition parties to form a comprehensive political platform with which to compete against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
HRP President Kem Sokha, however, said she had gone one step further with her recommendations, telling them to join forces.
“Based on her experience, she said that to beat the ruling party the opposition parties should unite,” Kem Sokha said, later clarifying that she meant they should merge.
“Mrs Hillary Clinton said she does not know why both parties cannot unite.”
Asked about the substance of the meeting, a US embassy spokesman said only that Clinton “appreciated the opportunity to meet with leaders of the political opposition in Cambodia and hear their perspectives on the political situation in Cambodia”.
Kem Sokha said the HRP had always backed the idea of a merger. “The decision to form a united opposition, it is up to the Sam Rainsy Party. For me, I have always wanted to unite,” he said.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said his party also supported the idea, but that it could not happen immediately without the parties running the risk of losing their parliamentary seats.
“It is our political will from the past. It is not strange,” he said. “We want to have the unity, but we have a legal problem.”
He added that a merger would likely take place in advance of parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the ruling party was not concerned in the least about the prospect of a merger.
“I would like to say that when it comes to winning and losing, we won’t know what happens until ballots are counted. But the CPP is not scared of this merger,” Cheam Yeap said.
“I predict that it is impossible even if [they] merge. All parties cannot beat the CPP.”
Also Tuesday, the Sam Rainsy Party held a ceremony at party headquarters marking its 15th anniversary, with its self-exiled leader speaking to the party faithful via videolink.
However, due to technical difficulties, his comments were cut short. He did not take questions from reporters.
Before the signal cut out, he told party members not to worry about the SRP’s prospects, and said he would return to Cambodia soon.
“Please, people, believe that in a short time, I will return home to work with you all and strengthen our party,” Sam Rainsy said. He did not specify how his return would be
Sam Rainsy has been sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison in connection with his attempts to publicise what he says is territorial encroachment on the part of Vietnam.