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HRP president calls for unity

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Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, addresses a conference in October last year.

DEMOCRATS AND ATIONALISTS MUST MERGE TO SUCCESSFULLY
REFORM THEMSELVES.

A LEADING opposition leader has called on democratic political parties of all stripes to join forces in 2010 in a fresh bid to challenge the entrenched majority of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party at the 2013 national election.

In a speech Friday, Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, said that opposition demands for democratic reforms had not been heeded over the previous year and that unity was the only way forward for the country’s spectrum of small opposition parties.

“The HRP sees that all parties and politicians who are democrats and nationalists must merge in order to successfully reform themselves, help people and lead our nation,” Kem Sokha said.

“Otherwise, we democrats and nationalists will just accompany the ruling party in their continued political domination.”

In the speech, Kem Sokha suggested that Cambodia has slipped back towards the communist model of the 1980s, highlighting increasing Vietnamese influence as a key concern for many Cambodians. He also said people had suffered from the exploitation of Cambodia’s rich natural resources by foreign companies through economic concessions by the government.

“Thousands of hectares of economic land concessions have been provided to foreign companies, which is not only an economic danger but could also affect Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, lamenting the “growing gap” between rich and poor.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said that Kem Sokha’s appeals repeated earlier calls made by the SRP for political parties to merge in order to challenge the CPP majority.

“We have already called on all political parties to join with the SRP. The SRP’s force is a central force. The HRP’s announcement has taken place following the SRP’s,” he said.

“The SRP has always called on all political parties to join with SRP. We always keep the door open.”

Koul Panha, executive director of local election monitor Comfrel, said the parties should sit and formally debate a merger plan if they are serious about the idea, rather than merely paying lip service to unity.

“If they do not debate, the merger will be impossible. They must find a joint formula,” he said.

Government officials, however, mocked the idea of a viable opposition front, pointing out that the idea had already been tried unsuccessfully in the past.

“[Kem Sokha] wanted to unite about a century ago but he couldn’t do it,” said senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, adding that even a unified opposition party could not make inroads into the ruling party’s popularity, based on concrete achievements.

“Let them be prime minister: They couldn’t achieve as much as Samdech Techo Hun Sen,” he said. “We know no one can be perfect. We are reforming step by step.”

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