Cambodia's two largest opposition parties – the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party – yesterday announced plans to merge into a single entity: the Cambodia Democratic Movement of National Rescue.
“In the near future, there will be one new main opposition political party as the result of a merger between the SRP and HRP,” HRP leader Kem Sokha said in a video conference with SRP chief Sam Rainsy, who echoed those thoughts just moments later.
Speaking from Manila, where their parties had just concluded a two-day meeting at SRP headquarters there, the two politicos said they intended to run candidates under the National Rescue banner in the 2013 national elections, though they were hesitant to offer a precise launch date for the new party.
Rainsy will serve as president of the National Rescue party and Sokha will be vice president; however, finer details of the party’s structure and composition have yet to be finalised.
In a joint statement yesterday, Rainsy and Sokha “absolutely insisted” on a change in the composition of the National Election Committee and an “overhaul of the current complicated election procedures that make voting unnecessarily difficult”.
Rainsy said change would be swift and that if reform of the NEC was timely, he would return to Cambodia from his self-imposed exile in France in time for the 2013 elections.
“Our nation is drowning in disaster. The country is under the dictatorship of a leader who serves only the interests of foreign invaders,” Rainsy said during the press conference.
“We are proud that we have reached an agreement to serve the desire of Cambodian people who want to see one strong opposition party in order to rescue our nation from suffering,” Sokha added.
However, the National Rescue party is likely to face an uphill battle, commentators said yesterday.Election monitoring group Comfrel’s president, Koul Panha, said Rainsy and Sokha would have to be strategic about when and how they registered their new party so as not to lose seats already held by the SRP and HRP at the commune and national levels.
“If you merge as one party, it means the other party will lose all its seats,” Panha explained. “This is why they have to create three parties. Maybe they need to wait until 2017 [the next commune council election year] to dissolve the SRP and HRP, which have commune council seats now.”
In the recent June 3 elections, the SRP won 20.8 per cent of the popular vote and the HRP won 9.8. It was the first election in which the HRP candidates had run.
A merger between the two parties has been bandied about for years, but concrete moves toward a merger began after the success of HRP in the commune council elections – success the party would be eager to protect in the restrictive legal framework of party mergers.
Tep Nytha, secretary-general of the NEC, reiterated that the Law on Political Parties states that individual political parties can establish their alliances, or a new political party, but if the two political parties merge into one with a new name, they must register and coordinate with the Ministry of Interior.
The potential confusion of forming a third party while the two opposition parties still exist means the move would need to be clearly explained to the populace, Puthea Hang, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free Elections in Cambodia, said yesterday.
“If they want to build a unique party, they need to build the confidence of the people before the general election,” Puthea said. “And there is not enough time to campaign totally.
“They need more time and more discussion,” he added.
If the structure of the National Rescue party is settled between Rainsy and Sokha and an aggressive campaign is successfully implemented, the new party could perform quite well in the upcoming national elections, Comfrel’s Panha reasoned.
“There could be an increase in confidence among supporters, it could re-energise people who had lost hope of real change and encourage those frustrated people to the polls,” Panha said.
Voter turnout for the recent commune elections was the lowest in years, with only about 60 per cent of the population casting a ballot.