TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP
SRP leader Sam Rainsy says he wants a mass coalition of all political parties who oppose the ruling CPP, but analysts say the pride of party leaders could hamper any potential merger.
It was only moments after his return on April 29 from a campaign sweep through Canada and the US that political leader Sam Rainsy declared his readiness to merge with Cambodia’s two other major opposition parties as the country races towards national elections in July.
Only such a marriage would have a chance at diminishing the power of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP), which observers expect will become absolute in the absence of the coalition government deals which have resulted from previous polls.
But Rainsy’s offer was not without conditions and accusations aimed at the very partners he is seeking, something analysts say reveals an opposition hopelessly at odds with itself and unlikely to loosen the CPP’s stranglehold over Cambodia’s political affairs.
“They do not have confidence in each other,” said Chea Vannath, the former director of the Center for Social Development who is now an independent analyst.
“They must merge together to compete with the CPP, but ... they cannot call for a coalition only as the election arrives,” she told the Post on April 30.
“A coalition is a very important force, but each (party leader) is too proud and will not agree to work together.”
Corruption, legal problems and even messy personal lives have come into play and Rainsy and leaders of the Human Rights Party (HRP), headed by former activist Kem Sokha, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s self-named political organization point fingers at each other, while at the same time pledging to support a coalition.
Upon returning to Cambodia, Rainsy demanded that the “weak points” of both of his potential allies be addressed or all three risked being “held hostage” by the CPP.
Kem Sokha, who has been at the center of a vicious whisper campaign over alleged graft, needed to sort out corruption allegations made by his former employees at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, according to Rainsy.
The Prince, in self-imposed exile since he was ousted as head of the royalist Funcinpec party amid a flurry of legal assaults, including one for adultery, must tidy up his private affairs, Rainsy said.
“No one else can help him with that,” he told the Post.
These comments have not gone down well, with Kem Sokha shooting back that Rainsy – the long-time darling of foreign pro-democracy campaigners – has no real commitment to form a coalition, as well as legal problems of his own that could jeopardize the opposition’s election chances.
The HRP has long pushed for a coalition with the two other opposition parties, but the plan is still “a failure,” Sokha said, adding that while he would unconditionally join Rainsy, he did not know if he could merge with the Prince’s Norodom Ranariddh Party, or NRP.
“He (Ranariddh) is different from me,” he said, accusing the NRP of shamelessly using a joint meeting with his own group to encourage defections to the NRP.
“This is a divide and rule policy it does not demonstrate the good will you need to form a democratic coalition,” Sokha said.
The disarray is, however, just more evidence of the CPP’s pending election landslide, according to government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.
“This is five riels being divided between three people,” he told the Post on May 1.
The opposition “merged many times before but those mergers were always broken – it is no worry to the CPP,” he said.
Officials at the NRP, while professing to want a coalition, claim that the two other parties simply waited until it was too close to the July 27 elections to realistically merge.
Registration for parties ends on May 12, and NRP spokesman Muth Chantha said, “When the election will arrive so soon why … hold press conferences about coalitions?
“We cannot merge now into one big party, it is too late. It is very deceptive to claim we can.”
Credibility remains elusive for the fractious opposition, said Koul Panha, executive director of the Cambodian election monitor Committee for Free and Fair Elections, and the most recent bickering does not help.
“The merger must be sincere … but do these three leaders have the will to do this?” he said.