Up to one-third of Cambodia's 39 registered political parties are expected to disband
or ally themselves with Funcinpec or the CPP in the run-up to the scheduled Feb 3,
2002 commune elections.
The Light of Liberty Party (LLP), Khmer Citizens Party (KCP) and the Republican
Coalition Party (RCP) have already confirmed that they will not contest the elections
due to lack of funding and internal problems.
"It's not a good time for [us]," KCP President Khieu Seng Kim said of his
decision to bow out of the elections. "Our former president was accused of Cambodian
Freedom Fighter ties, and now I have to reshuffle the party to prepare for the 2003
LLP President Thach Rang attributed his decision to disband his party as a recognition
of its shared political goals with Funcinpec.
"I have learned my party's policies are the same as Funcinpec, so it is useless
for us to contest the [commune] elections," Rang told the Post.
Heng Sin, President of the RCP, blamed his party's temporary suspension of activity
on a lack of financial and human resources.
Civil society groups monitoring the planning for the commune elections say that the
three parties are just the tip of the iceberg.
According to Chea Vannath, President of the Center for Social Development (CSD) and
Sek Sophal, Executive Director of the election monitoring organization COFFEL, at
least twelve political parties are expected to bow out ahead of the Feb elections.
"Not many political parties will participate in the commune elections due to
financial problems and a feeling of hopelessness due to their experience in the 1998
national elections," Vannath said.
Disbandment and alliances with the CPP and Funcinpec may eventually narrow the number
of parties contesting the election to as few as 10, she added.
Concerns about the NEC's capacity to adequately ensure a fair electoral process are
also fueling doubts within smaller parties.
A March 22 CSD round-table discussion on the 2002 and 2003 elections that attracted
representatives of 25 political parties produced demands that the NEC be independent,
neutral and transparent with members from all political parties. Opposition Sam Rainsy
Party members are excluded from the NEC.
Pen Sovann, former Premier in the post-KR Vietnamese-installed government of the
People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) and now the President of the Cambodian National
Sustaining Party, says he is withholding judgment on whether to participate in the
commune elections pending assurances they will be free and fair.
NEC Vice-President Kassie Neou refused comment on allegations of NEC political bias.
The long-delayed commune elections are perceived by some political observers as a
potential threat to more than two decades of CPP control of the Kingdom's political
grassroots through its network of 1606 commune chiefs.