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Opposition party eyes merger meet in Manila

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Sam Rainsy in Phnom Penh in January 2009. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Senior members of the Sam Rainsy Party have invited leaders of the Human Rights Party to a meeting with self-exiled SRP founder Sam Rainsy in the Philippines at the end of this month to discuss the prospect of a merger before next year’s elections.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the SRP, told the Post yesterday representatives from the SRP would hold discussions with Sam Rainsy on June 27 and 28, before sitting down with HRP president Kem Sokha and his senior officials on June 29 and 30.

“I sent a letter to the president of the HRP, Kem Sokha, today [June 6] to invite him to a meeting in Manila . . . in order to move towards resolving problems for the nation and taking power from the ruling party in next year’s elections,” said Yim Sovann. “Whatever the difficulty, this is an opportunity for us to unite, because these results [in recent commune elections] show that non-CPP voters are waiting for us.”

Mao Munyvann, deputy president of the HRP and a former SRP parliamentarian, said that the HRP and the SRP were ideologically aligned, and that only one hurdle to the merger remained.

“The pride of the SRP and a few partisan members are the main obstacle to the HRP and SRP being able to merge,” said Mao Munyvann. “We must be united together for the interest of the party and the nation, and we have to put personal interests behind us.”

Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, said that news of the merger was simply a display of political anxiety in the wake of shaky commune election performances.

“I think that the merging of the two opposition parties will not have an influence on the ruling CPP, and we are not concerned about next year’s election,” he said.

Unofficial results of Sunday’s commune elections assembled by election watchdog Comfrel showed the SRP picking up just over 20 per cent of the vote, and the HRP clinching just under 10 per cent.

The ruling CPP swept more than 60 per cent.

However, according to Comfrel executive director Koul Panha, a merger would have distinct benefits under the current formula for allotting parliamentary seats.

“In 2013, if they still get the same number – about 30 per cent – if they come together, they will get more seats as one party,” he said, calling the merger a good morale booster.

According to Koul Panha, if the newly merged party garners similar votes, they would have a parliamentary bloc large enough to propose laws, constitutional amendments and even a vote to dismiss the current government.

Some, however, were not so optimistic.

“I don’t think it’s going to make any difference, and it’s going to fall apart anyway,” said Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor of politics at University of New South Wales at the Australia Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

“The bottom line is that CPP rule is not going to be threatened in the national election,” Thayer added. “And if the CPP feels threatened, they’ll manipulate the results.

To contact the reporters on this story: Vong Sokheng at sokheng.vong@phnompenhpost.com
Stuart White at stuart.white@phnompenhpost.com

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