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Parties face legacy of division

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Opposition parties are confident recent political collaboration will yield electoral success, but analysts say past mergers have foundered on personal ambition.

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Tracey Shelton

SRP President Sam Rainsy at a press conference Thursday following the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change with the Human Rights Party.

THE recent series of political party collaborations has raised opposition hopes of a successful challenge to the ruling Cambodian People's Party, but some political analysts are divided as to the likely success of new political alliances, saying the track record of the Kingdom's political opposition has been marked more by division than by unity.

The overwhelming success of the CPP in last July's national election, in addition to a steady trickle of opposition defections, have been the catalysts for the recent collaborations, which have seen the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party (HRP) agree to join forces as the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), and the royalist Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) and Funcinpec agree to realign following a disastrous showing in last year's election.

Personal conflicts

But even though opposition allainces have occurred sporadically, analysts said they often foundered on the personal conflicts between party leaders.

Koul Panha, executive director of election watchdog Comfrel, said that personal ambition, bolstered by false estimates of support produced by local party operatives, often left leaders reluctant to negotiate with other parties.

"Some leaders of small parties don't learn from their experiences of division," he said. "They don't look [at] the political evolution. Every party is weak at studying the information they receive from their local activists, which sometimes is untrue."

Independent analyst Chea Vannath said a united opposition would be better placed to take on the CPP, but said the DMC would prove more successful than the dwindling royalist bloc.

"If they work hard for the next four years, until the next election, there is a definite chance [the DMC] will take more seats," she said, adding that Funcinpec and the NRP had more serious issues they needed to "work out" before they could mount a fresh political challenge.

A fresh start

But Kem Sokha, president of the HRP, said that the opposition had learned from the divisiveness of the past, and that common points of principle would ensure a fruitful partnership between his party and the SRP.

"We signed the joint statement for the DMC because we need to change. If you cannot mobilise, then you cannot change, we have learned that from our experience," he said.

Speaking Thursday after signing the colloboration agreement with Kem Sokha Thursday, SRP President Sam Rainsy said the decision to unite both parties happened "the very day after the legislative election," saying it was now time for both parties to work together to ensure change can come to Cambodia.

He added also that Funcinpec's dependence on CPP patronage would hamstring its efforts to form an effective opposition bloc with the NRP, saying that "we [the SRP and HRP] have the same principles and the same goals. We are independent, but Funcinpec are not independent.

They are close with the ruling party and they have their own interests."

NRP spokesman Suth Dina said, however, that his party's priority was to ensure electoral success at May's council elections, and that a merger with Funcinpec was likely to follow in its wake.

"Our priority is to cooperate to win seats at [May's] council elections," he said Sunday. "The merger of the royalist parties is the next step."

Koul Panha observed that historically, opposition parties have rallied together after elections to protest the legitimacy of the outcome - a position occupied by the CPP following Funcinpec's electoral victory in 1993. But he said it often takes a major electoral defeat - and a recognition of the true extent of a party's electoral support - to force opposition leaders into close alliances.

"After the election, [parties] recognised their weakness because the results they expected were not real," he said. "Now, they clearly know the [extent of their] political support," he said. 

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