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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Opposition joins forces

Opposition joins forces

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081222_02.jpg

The Kingdom's two main opposition parties have again announced serious

plans to merge and contest the next election in 2012 under one banner

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

SRP Deputy Secretary General Mu Sochua speaks at the HRP-SRP press conference last week.

THE long-awaited union of Cambodia's opposition Human Rights Party and Sam Rainsy Party, announced formally in a joint press conference on Thursday, confirms a political relationship that had already begun to coalesce over the two parties' legal efforts to challenge the results of July's national polls.

"On behalf of the HRP, and as president, I would like to declare publicly that we have accepted the request of local Cambodian citizens and nationals living overseas to combine as one political alliance between the HRP and the SRP for future elections," Kem Sokha said in a statement Thursday.

He said the alliance has been struck at an opportune moment for rallying the growing number of people who reject the Cambodian People's Party mandate as a threat to democracy and who seek political representatives devoted to the public good rather than to individual gain. However, he cautioned that the merger would be neither immediate nor comprehensive.

"We are individual parties, and we have individual identities and seats in Parliament. But we have a deeper alliance that can be established now or in the future," he said.

The alliance will not eliminate each party's representation in Parliament, he said, referring to a clause in the Assembly's rules that obliges parties that merge mid-mandate to sacrifice seats.  Rather, it would strengthen their present position by uniting them in spirit until the two parties can formally contest elections under one name.

"The opposition parties' positions have been effectively eliminated in Parliament, while the ruling party has the pretext of a mandate. This is contrary to democracy," Kem Sokha said.

Details unclear, SRP cautious

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua did not mention specifics about the alliance but told reporters following the joint press conference that she accepted the proposal and would present it to party President Sam Rainsy and the SRP's members.

"Our stance is that we wish to unite with other democrats who are impartial. An alliance with the HRP would give us a combined 29 seats [in Parliament]," she said.

Despite having similar platforms and a shared history of cooperation with the workers and union movements, the two parties - possibly because of the personalities involved - have always had a tumultuous relationship. Soon after Kem Sokha founded his party in 2007, Sam Rainsy told the Post: "I am not interested and I am not concerned" about the new contender.

As Kem Sokha's HRP proved itself to be a viable candidate in the run-up to the July polls, many observers expected a last-minute merger so as not to split the opposition vote. Such a merger failed to materialise.

For some, such as Puthea Hang, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, the new alliance may be too little, too late.

"They cannot win against the CPP because they would be starting all over as a new party," he said.   

Govt stays silent

Despite the announcement of a future merger, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith refused to be drawn on the proposed union, telling the Post the opposition parties were free to do what they wanted.

"It is their right. They can combine however they see fit," he said.

Some civil society groups have responded with scepticism, saying that any coalition was doomed to fail in future elections because the parties lack the ability to lead.

Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation, said the opposition will never depose the ruling CPP because it has failed to understand the law.

"Leaders of the SRP and HRP have never demanded that the National Election Committee maintain free and fair elections. Instead, they simply complain when they don't win," he said.

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